For this particular project I felt like the window was wide open with different opportunities to take advantage of. In all honesty, I had a hard time choosing what exhibit to visit versus if there was someone I wanted to interview because there were some people I had initially reached out to but instead I decided to go to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. After walking around the museum I had viewed exhibits I’ve already seen such as the “Don’t Touch My Hair: Expressions of Identity and Community” (Which is insanely beautiful by the way) I decided on taking the road less traveled and look more in depth on what is around the perimeter of the museum.
I found an exhibit called the Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads which is a series of a reinterpretation of the twelve bronze animal heads that represent the traditional Chinese zodiac. Created by the internationally acclaimed artist Ai Weiwei these bronze statues were insanely intriguing! Originally designed in the eighteenth century by two European Jesuits serving in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the twelve zodiac heads originally functioned as a water clockfountain in the European style gardens of the Old Summer Palace. These specific heads created by Ai Weiwei have been displayed in over forty international venues making this exhibit quite the spectacle. Weiwei’s overall goal with reinterpreting these sculptures is to bring attention to the questions of looting and repatriation. Looking at these bronze sculptures, they relatively brought me back to a time in high school in my honors world studies class where the entire year all we learned about was chinese history. Mind you, this was my freshman year so it was quite a while back but since that year, I haven’t really learned much more about Chinese history. It has always been something that’s intrigued me whether it is sculptures, paintings, poetry, film, etc. there is a sense of grace woven within the culture. Just the most recent fall term at the UO I took a comparative world literature class where we explored a little bit of poetry and art within Chinese culture. We briefly talked about Weiwei and his work but didn’t go as in depth as I would’ve hoped especially after finding these bronze heads.
Ai Weiwei is one of the best-known contemporary artists in China. Being not only an artist but an architectural designer, curator, and social activist, Weiwei has all sorts of artwork and designs all over the world. He also was the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. One of his most notable pieces is titled “Sunflower Seeds” located in the Tate Modern art gallery in London, where over one hundred million hand painted pieces of porcelain sunflower seeds representing the vastness of China and the conformity and censorship of the communist party.
Overall, Ai Weiwei is not only an internationally acclaimed artist with a large amount of backstory and depth to his artwork but he is also an activist and is very relevant within the Chinese community. The Zodiac Heads are his first major public sculpture project and quite the success as well.