These are three of twelve 800-pound bronze animal heads that were unveiled today in the fountain at the southeast corner of Central Park, in front of the Plaza Hotel. The sculpture is the work of jailed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who designed the famous Birds Nest stadium in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, and who has spoken out against corruption and cover-ups on the part of the Chinese government. He is currently in jail for what Beijing calls “economic crimes,” but his work continues. Here’s a brief explanation of this work, from the Times:
The sculpture, “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” was inspired by the famous fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, an 18th-century imperial retreat just outside Beijing. Designed in the 18th century by two European Jesuits at the behest of the Manchu emperor Qianlong, the fountain-clock featured each animal of the Chinese zodiac, spouting water at two-hour intervals. In 1860, French and British troops ransacked the Yuanming Yuan, pillaging the heads. Seven of them — the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, horse, monkey and boar — have since been located; the other five are still missing.
“Artists risk everything to create. They risk failure. They risk rejection. They risk public criticism. But artists like Ai Weiwei, who come from places that do not value and protect free speech, risk even more than that,” Mayor Bloomberg said today at the unveiling. “His willingness to take those risks, and face the consequences, speaks not only to his courage, but also to the indomitable desire for freedom that is inside every human being.”