China's most famous dissident artist is armed with a "gun". And he's not afraid to use it.
Dressed in shorts, black socks and a straw hat, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei uploaded a photo of himself on Instagram last week, holding up his leg and aiming it as a rifle. He then accompanied the picture with the words "Beijing Anti-Terrorism Series," which he later explained was a reference to anti-terror campaigns.
Instagram users from around the world then began to follow suit, uploading images of themselves "brandishing" their "leg guns" using the hashtags #endgunviolence #gunleg #gunviolence. Close to 10,000 photos have been shared and Ai himself handpicked some and has been continually promoting them on his account.
What's the message behind the "leg gun" meme? Ai, who has had a long history of using art as a form of protest, initially did not say. But in an interview with AP on Monday, he remarked that power was being "overused in the name of counter-terrorism". There has been a series of violent attacks and security tensions in China, and three men were sentenced to death on Monday, over a car crash in Beijing's Tiananmen Square last October that left five people dead. Local authorities have increased surveillance and tightened security in China's western Xinjiang province, launching what they call an "anti-terrorism campaign".
"Power is being used in the name of protecting you," Ai said in the interview. "But what the authorities are actually doing is something which deserves a lot of discussion."
"Ai Weiwei's work appeals to a very primal sense of justice that people thrive for," said gallery owner Michael Janssen, who has staged several exhibitions by Ai. "So when he begins work on a piece that could relate to anything, especially with politics, it always makes for quite an interesting phenomenon."
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is not banned in China. While the leg gun photos first began circulating on Instagram, the craze soon spread to popular Chinese messaging chat app WeChat where Chinese users were seen sharing their leg guns.
"Maybe Ai wants to remind us that firing a gun is a choice and by making ourselves (our legs) the weapon, we eliminate the distance between killer and victim," wrote Instagram user petrichor123.
Another user, gstab said: "It seems to be a reference to the Chinese national ballet where the dancers used their legs as rifles."
WeChat user mobdance58 said: "Could never master the harlem shake and was never one for planking - my legs have never felt so powerful before."
Reporting by Heather Chen
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