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Make an Ai Weiwei artwork

Published 14 September 2015

In an exclusive extract from a new book of DIY projects by artists and designers, we share one by Ai Weiwei, as this provocative artist takes over our main galleries.

  • In Do It Yourself published by Phaidon, 50 designers and artists have devised projects that readers can make at home. Ai Weiwei’s contribution is, like much of the artist’s work, deceptively unassuming – a fabric puppet named Caonima.


    At first glance, these sock puppets seem like nothing more than kids’ toys. But, as so often with the work of the Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei, there’s more to them than meets the eye. In 2009, the video of an innocuous children’s song, showing grazing alpaca camels, went viral on YouTube in China. In China, the alpaca is caonima, and this is also a rather earthy and popular insult to the receiver’s mother in Mandarin. Within days, the alpaca had turned into a way of symbolically flipping the bird to censorship of the Internet in China. This is a theme that Ai Weiwei, who works across varied disciplines to turn a critical eye on human rights abuses, exploitation, and pollution in his native land, has gratefully seized on ever since (watch his Caonima Style video on YouTube). Make your own caonima and share it using #AiwwCaonima.

    You will need:

    (Old) socks
    Sewing needle
    Buttons (for the eyes)
    Dried beans
    Wadding or cotton wool

    Make the caonima, step by step:

  • Caonima, a fabric puppet by Ai Weiwei - detail
  • This is an extract from Do It Yourself: 50 Projects by Artists and Designers, published 14 September by Phaidon. Enter the competition to win a copy below.


    To celebrate the opening of our landmark Ai Weiwei exhibition on 19 September, Phaidon are giving away five copies of Do It Yourself. Enter the competition here.