Ai Weiwei, “Circle of Animals/ Zodiac Heads”, Somerset House, London, England, 12 Bronze Casts, Each Ten Feet Tall.
Despite acclaim in his home country – receipt of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Lifetime Contribution in 2008; his close work with architects Herzog & de Meuron in designing the “Bird’s Nest” National Olympic Stadium for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games; his reputation as one of China’s top artists; and his father’s status as one of China’s most renowned poets – contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has frequently found himself at odds with the Chinese government.
Such is the case in 2011 as his “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” went on view in the courtyard of London’s Somerset House. What was originally scheduled as a press call to interview Ai Weiwei and an opportunity to photograph the artist with his “Circle of Animals” was altered to a sans artist event due to his disappearance in early April of 2011. Ai Weiwei’s whereabouts were unknown. Although no explanation was given for his disappearance, it was widely believed Ai Weiwei was detained by Chinese authorities in response to the online publication of a photograph featuring Ai Weiwei naked except for a toy horse covering his genitals along with a caption in Mandarin that could be interpreted as “Fuck your mother, the party central committee.”
In 21 June 2012, Ai Weiwei’s bail was lifted. Although he is allowed to leave Beijing, the police informed him that he is still prohibited from traveling to other countries because he is “suspected of other crimes,” including pornography, bigamy and illicit exchange of foreign currency. As of 2014, he remains under heavy surveillance and restrictions of movement, but continues to criticize through his work.