Sculptor Puts ‘Terracotta Daughters’ on Grand Tour

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Terracotta Daughters

Credit: Skye An

"Terracotta Daughters" features 108 sculptures of Chinese schoolgirls.

NEW YORK (WOMENSNEWS)–French artist Prune Nourry has raised an army to combat gender inequality. She’s done it with “Terracotta Daughters,” an exhibit of 108 sculptures of Chinese schoolgirls on display in New York until Oct. 4 at The China Institute, in downtown Manhattan.

Each “daughter” is 5 feet tall and weighs about 260 pounds. She used eight Chinese girls as models for the project.

The exhibit provides a gender spin on the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses; thousands of sculptures dating to the funeral of the first emperor of China that created a global sensation after they were discovered in 1974 as part of a vast collection of funerary statues that offer one of China’s main tourist attractions today.

While the emperor’s “necropolis” was built to protect him in the afterlife, Nourry offers her “peaceful army” to the idea of advancing gender parity through myth, art and reflection, she said in an email interview.

Underlying her artistic statement is the problem of male prevalence in China, where there are as many as 34 million more men than women, according to a 2010 census. Traditional cultural preference for men, government mandated one-child policies and advancements in sex-selective technologies all help explain that imbalance.

“This imbalance is raising numerous questions in terms of demographics, sociological relationships, etc.,” Nourry said.

Her exhibit will move next to Mexico. After that Nourry intends to bury the work in an undisclosed location in China until 2030, when it’s predicted that gender imbalance will be at its peak, she said.

The artist is also directing a documentary on the Terracotta Daughters, expected to be completed in 2015.

Terracotta-Daughters-2

Credit: Skye An



What do you hope to achieve by burying the Terracotta Daughters?

Burying them in a fake contemporary archeological site would be a great way to rediscover them, at a key date. 2030 is in fact the year when some sociologists predict that there will be the highest number of men looking for women to marry. We call them “men without women,” or bachelors, and this imbalance is raising numerous questions in terms of demographics, sociological relationships, etc.

What would Emperor Qin Shi Huang have thought of your army?

He might have wanted to marry them all.

What kind of “weapons” do you think the Terracotta Daughters have in their arsenal to combat gender imbalance in China?

The 108 girls are a peaceful army. They can appeal to anyone, at a national or universal level. At the beginning of the project, I planned on burying them after the exhibition in Shanghai in December 2013. But the reactions there were so strong and emotional that the idea emerged of making them travel and organizing a grand tour, so that they could see the world. Their strength comes from the interaction one can have with them both individually and collectively, as an army.

The number eight is often viewed as auspicious in China. Is that why you chose eight girls as models?

While working on the project, and after immersing myself in the army of terracotta soldiers, I became aware of the importance of the number eight. As you say, it is a special number in China, often considered a lucky number, but most of all, 8,000 soldiers were buried. Choosing eight girls was a way to bring up the question of their importance in China today.

What do you want the Terracotta Daughters to be remembered as the most?

As a creation of a myth, where there remains a doubt as to whether it happened or not.

Tell me what this exhibit means to you in terms of gender preference in China. Why does this issue speak to you as a woman?

This issue speaks to me as a human being. All my projects have been related in one way or another to this issue of human definition and gender preference. It strikes me how our perception of these notions can evolve over time, depending on cultures, depending on science’s evolution, but how some things remain at the same time. The gender imbalance is not a recent phenomenon, and although it particularly affects China and India, which together represent one third of the world’s population, I think the reflection goes beyond. This is why for instance, I created a Spermbar in New York in 2011 to question our search of the perfect child, which is a myth.

Why did you want to bring your Terracotta Daughters to New York City and what do you want non-Chinese girls to learn and understand from your creation?

I wanted the girls to travel the world. What interests me is to choose a symbol at a national level, but that can also appeal to all. I do not know what little girls can learn from it, and I am happy that everyone can have his or her own interpretation of my work. What would please me is at least, if the exhibit attracted them and enabled them to discover sculpture, which is a great medium for telling stories through time.

Terracotta Daughters is co-presented by the French Institute Alliance Française and China Institute as part of the Crossing the Line festival.

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