The Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads public art exhibit by contemporary Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei (pronounced “eye way way”) has been installed around the Rings Fountain on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston.
The twelve bronze animal heads represent the Chinese zodiac in a similar way they once did at a water clock-fountain in Beijing’s gardens of the Yaunming Yuan (Summer Imperial Palace).
The 10-feet tall animal heads weigh 1,500-2,000 pounds each and are installed in the order of the traditional Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the original heads were pillaged and only seven are known to still exist. Poly Group, a corporate arm of the Chinese military, owns five of them: the monkey, ox, tiger, boar, and horse. Two others (rat and rabbit) were owned by French billionaire Pierre Berge (partner of Yves Saint-Laurent). After a failed auction bid of $38 million, the Berge family returned the heads to the China’s National Museum.
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is Ai Weiwei’s re-interpretation of the animal heads calling attention to the tragedy of art treasure looting. The originals were designed in the 18th century by an Italian Jesuit missionary to China serving in the court of the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong.
Weiwei is well known for the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing built for the 2008 games. He also created @Large: Ai WeiWei on Alcatraz in 2014-15, a series of site-specific installations which raised questions about freedom of expression and human rights. His latest plan is to create portraits of freedom advocates using Lego bricks.
Ai Weiwei is the son of the famous poet Ai Qing who was branded a rightist and exiled to a remote outpost of western China. Growing up in exile laid the groundwork for his future as a social activist and spokesperson for freedom of speech and against injustice.
“To be yourself, to be outside the system. This is the most dangerous but also meaningful act for a person to take.” – Ai Weiwei
Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads will be exhibited on the Greenway around the Rings Fountain in the Wharf District Parks through October 2016 as part of a global tour in collaboration with AW Asia.
The Greenway Conservancy’s is hosting its first ever Public Art Season Kickoff Celebration held throughout the Greenway parks on Thursday, May 19 from 5-8pm. The Kickoff Celebration is free and open to the public and will feature live music, performances and a chance to meet featured artists.