Respect yourself and speak for others. Do one small thing every day to prove the existence of justice. i Weiwei is a well-known contemporary Chinese artist and social activist. He is considered one of China’s most prolific, courageous and controversial artists, using social media to advance free speech and human rights. He is so controversial that he can’t leave China but his work has been exhibited at many venues throughout the world, including the Venice Biennale, the Guangzhou Triennial, Tate Modern, the Smithsonian and now, at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is the artist’s interpretation of animal heads that were part of the fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness) during the Quing dynasty (1644–1912). Although they were looted by French and British troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War, Ai was able to reenvision the originals from old photographs. Twelve monumental bronze sculptures—representing the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig—line the Museum’s Sculpture Trail, a three-quarter-mile outdoor venue. The imposing heads stand 10 feet tall and weigh from 800 to 1500 pounds. Walking down the line of 24 National Museum of Wildlife Art | WildlifeArt.org –Ai Weiwei, from Weiwei-isms zodiac heads and interacting with the animals (they look right back at you) is an amazing experience. It is also an opportunity to see the work of one of the best known and highly regarded living artists. “The Museum constantly explores the question…why do people make images of animals…which is a quite open-ended question,” says Jim McNutt, President and CEO of the National Museum of Wildlife Art. He goes on to say that this question goes back to the prehistoric cave paintings in the Lascaux caves in southwestern France, to the bird stones made by Native Americans 1500 years ago and to the exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s contemporary zodiac animals. The town of Jackson and the Museum are at the southern gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, where visitors go to see animals in the wild. “We have a special relationship with the continued presence of big wildlife—moose, bison and bear. This is the art, in all of its different representations, that’s in the Museum and now outside the Museum as well,” McNutt says. Weiwei-isms is a book of Ai Weiwei’s aphorisms and insights, edited by Larry Warsh and published by Princeton University Press in 2012. All images © Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Bronze, 2010, 134 x 66 x 77 inches. Images courtesy of the artist.
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