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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is no stranger to conflicts with the Chinese government. When he was one year old his father, a poet and his mother, were sent to a prison labor camp because of opposition to the Cultural Revolution.

Chances are you’ve seen the artist, philosopher, publisher and instigator’s work during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His building is known popularly as The Bird’s Nest Stadium and it was designed by Weiwei and the Swiss architectural and design group Herzog and de Meuron.

This spring, Weiwei launched a new sculptural exhibition in Central Park called “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Head.” It features Weiwei’s interpretation of the Chinese Zodiac. Weiwei is familiar with New York, having left China for America in the 1980s, living and making conceptual work in the East Village. During this time he also studied at Parsons School of Design. In 1996 he returned to China after his father became ill and has been based there since then, using technology to spread his ideas via Twitter and to reach the young. 

“It is innovative and thought-provoking exhibits like Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads that keep New York one of the world’s great places to live, work and visit,” said NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a press release. “And as we continue to showcase the best art exhibits and attractions, we maintain our status as the cultural capital of the world. We are honored that New York is host to this monumental work by Ai Weiwei, before it travels the rest of the globe.”

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About the Zodiac, Weiwei said this in a statement: “My work is always dealing with real or fake, authenticity and value and how value relates to current political and social understandings and misunderstandings. However, because ‘Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads’ is composed of animal heads, it’s a work that everyone can understand, including children and people who are not in the art world. I think it’s more important to show your work to the public. That’s what I really care about.”

What Weiwei also cares about is corruption. In accordance, the Chinese communist government wants to silence him. While on his way to Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland this morning, Wei Wei was detained by Chinese authorities. This came weeks after the government destroyed his studio in Beijing. The studio was scheduled for destruction and arrangements had been made to vacate the premises prior to its destruction. However, Chinese authorities came without warning, destroying several buildings in addition to multiple pieces of Weiwei’s art.

Weiwei has been critical of the government for years, particularly focusing his rage on corruption and exposing an alleged corruption scandal in the construction of Sichuan schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Hundreds of children died the earthquake and in the school.

WeiWei’s detention comes as China carries out a crackdown on lawyers, writers and activists, arresting and detaining dozens after online calls for protests similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa began to circulate in February.

After the break, see more samples of Weiwei’s art.

(Above) Weiwei’s Coca-Cola vessel.

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A Weiwei sculpture. 

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Weiwei’s Bird Nest Stadium at night.

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Weiwei’s Snake Ceiling.

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Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads in NYC’s Central Park.

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Weiwei’s “Bicycles.”