The majestic “Terracotta Daughters” by Prune Nourry, buried in China for 15 Years
We cannot do without Women…
Prune Nourry is an artist I admire for her generosity and her humanism. Her creations, rooted in our world, have a hold on modern society: they are an act of awareness as well as messengers of renewal and hope.
Thus, her work “Terracotta Daughters” is truly breathtaking. The imposing beauty of these 108 life-size little girls, made in clay, is so powerful in its representation of a monumental army, yet so fragile in its depiction of the young faces of children. However, it is mainly breathtaking because of the deep meaning that the project carries, and the fact that it echoes her preceding works “Holy Daughters” and “Holy River”.
For several years, Prune Nourry dove into the study of the demographic consequences of the one-child policy and the selection by genders in countries like India and China. She thought up the “Terracotta Daughters” by spending a year in the land of the rising sun to meet experts in human sciences from all fields (sociologists, psychologists, gynecologists, etc.) and to become familiar with the founding values of the Chinese culture.Thanks to these exchanges, she has created this forceful artwork, inspired by an emblematic Chinese symbol: the army of terracotta soldiers found in Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum (3rd century B.C.E.). Prune Nourry’s Army embodies the “Missing Women,” aborted by the preference of giving birth to boys, resulting in the dramatic masculinization of the population.
For the Artist, this work would only make sense if it were the result of a close collaboration with China, its inhabitants, its land, and its know-how. So, it’s naturally there, among Chinese artisans, that she was able to accomplish her project. Prune Nourry is highly sensitive, and therefore very “instinctive”. It’s a word that she keeps using when she recounts her adventures in this great country. It was by following her “instincts” that she chose a traditional workshop far from the frenzy of cities, as if anchored in a bygone era. Her “ instincts also drove her to collaborate with Wen Xian Feng, an artisan who has mastered the ancestral art of terracotta. He teached her the technical specificities of his craft, and in exchange, she suggested that he also dabble in the role of the Artist. To sculpt the first eight “clay girls,” Prune Nourry used eight orphans from the countryside as models. By combining the elements of these eight original sculptures, Wen Xian Feng was responsible for creating 108 warriors, each one unique.
The premiere exhibition of the “Terracotta Daughters” in September 2013 in Shanghai meets great success. Even better, it arouses highly enthusiastic responses from the Chinese women audience. Therefore, the Artist decides that her Army should travel the world as the symbol of a major societal issue, and also as an illustration of the encounter between traditional Chinese craftsmanship and contemporary Art. During 2014, she displays them in Paris, Zurich, New York, and finally at the Anahuacalli Museum in Mexico with the curator Tatyana Franck. After this world tour, it is time to go back to China to bury her Daughters and leave them to their sleep and to their myth for the next 15 years.
The burial ceremony was held on October 17 th. Following a precise ritual in reference to the Chinese traditions, it represented a strong artistic statement. Archeological pits of brick, evoking those of the soldiers from Xi’an 2000 years earlier, were created to accomodate the 108 warriors. Thus the myth is created: the mystery of the location-which will remain secret until 2030- the mystery of the fog at the start of the ritual, the mystery of a ceremony where only very few key people (three of the eight orphans , the artisan Xian Feng, the sociologist Yang Xueyan who is responsible for the government program “Care for Girls,” the first patrons and collectors of the project)—were invited to testify.
Straight out of the “Contemporary Archeological Site,” the “Terracotta Daughters” Army will be exhumed in 2030, the year where the imbalance of gender in China will reach its critical point.
And what if a mysterious power has already emanated from this army? A good omen or just by chance, only one week after the burial, the Chinese government announced the abandonment of the one-child policy, a law that had angered people in the country for over 30 years!
During a talk at Simon Studer Art gallery, Prune Nourry told us everything about the major steps of this huge project and presented a short film featuring this adventure. In the gallery, one can admire some bronze Terracotta Daughters and other beautiful artworks made of emblematic images from the key steps projected onto earthy sand .
More to come: Get ready for the release of a long film in 2016!
Translated by Erica DeMichel, Wesleyan University, Vassar Wesleyan Program in Paris Fall 2015
Prune Nourry artwork is displayed at Simon Studer Art gallery in Geneva and Magda Danysz Gallery in Paris and Shanghai.