Skip to main content
Giant rusting cast iron sculpture of a root in the Rainforest Biome at the Eden Project


Ai Weiwei's sculpture is on view in the Rainforest Biome.

The artwork

Ai Weiwei
Fly, 2019

Cast iron

Fly is from a series of monumental sculptures cast in iron from giant tree roots sourced in Brazil during research and production for Ai’s survey exhibition, ‘Raiz’, at the Oscar Niemeyer-designed OCA Pavilion in Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo. Working with local artisans and communities across Brazil, Ai visited Trancoso in the east of the country to locate roots and trunks from the endangered Pequi Vinagreiro tree, typically found in the Bahian rainforest. Elements of these rare trees, some of which are over a thousand years old, were painstakingly moulded, conjoined and then cast to create striking compositions and bold forms that reflect their Brazilian heritage.


Sculpture of giant root surrounded by rainforest foliage

About the artwork

The title Fly came as a suggestion from Ai Weiwei’s young son Ai Lao, based on his personal observations or connections made when visiting these tree remains with his father. They speak of a depiction of the state of ‘uprootedness’, one that mirrors not only the artist’s peripatetic existence after being allowed to leave China in 2015, but also the plight of the refugees he has spent the last few years documenting, as well as the various indigenous populations that rely on the trees and forests of Brazil for their habitats and sustenance. The deforestation and concomitant purge of peoples and resources relates to previous bodies of work produced by Ai and to the current political realities of many countries, including his native China.

Close up of the rust and texture of a giant iron sculpture of a root

About the work

The cast iron – covered in a patina of orange rust – references ancient cultures and man’s first tools for tree felling and woodworking. Although originally contorted by their surrounding landscapes, these roots were not born of nature but made and crafted by human hands, using the ancient techniques of ‘lost wax’ moulding and then iron casting. These methods represent a traditional, largely bygone way of life, that has been usurped and upended by industrialisation and relentless modernisation, illustrating how progress can often come at the expense of cultural and societal wellbeing.


About the artist

A global citizen, artist and thinker, Ai Weiwei moves between modes of production and investigation, subject to the direction and outcome of his research, whether into the Chinese earthquake of 2008 (for works such as Straight, 2008-12 and Remembering, 2009) or the worldwide plight of refugees and forced migrants (for Law of the Journey and his feature-length documentary, Human Flow, both 2017). From early iconoclastic positions in regards to authority and history, which included Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) and a series of middle-finger salutes to sites of power, Study of Perspective (1995 - ), Ai’s production expanded to encompass architecture, public art and performance.

Beyond concerns of form or protest, Ai now measures our existence in relation to economic, political, natural and social forces, uniting craftsmanship with conceptual creativity. Universal symbols of humanity and community, such as bicycles, flowers and trees, as well as the perennial problems of borders and conflicts are given renewed potency though installations, sculptures, films and photographs, while Ai continues to speak out publicly on issues he believes important. He is one of the leading cultural figures of his generation and serves as an example for free expression both in China and internationally.

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing and now lives and works in Portugal.

Press coverage of Fly

Find out more about art at the Eden Project Eden