Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Animal Heads

Ai Weiwei Zodiac Animal Heads

Internationally acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei has reinterpreted the twelve bronze animal heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famed fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing.

The heads are meant as a statement on China’s communist government disregard and destruction of culture, destroying the old world to rebuild the new one. “They are not clear on what is most important in the so-called tradition or classics. The Zodiac is a perfect example to show their ignorance on this matter.”

Designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits serving in the court of the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong, the twelve zodiac animal heads originally functioned as a water clock-fountain, which was sited in the magnificent European-style gardens of the Yuanming Yuan. In 1860, the Yuanming Yuan was ransacked by French and British troops, and the heads were pillaged. In re-interpreting these objects on an oversized scale, Ai Weiwei focuses attention on questions of looting and repatriation, while extending his ongoing exploration of the ‘fake’ and the copy in relation to the original.

Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads is the artist’s first major public sculpture project.

(info courtesy of

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
7th Street and Independence Avenue SW
Washington DC
(202) 633-1000
April 19, 2012 – February 24, 2013

Ai Weiwei Zodiac Animal Heads