In June 2012 artist Prune Nourry travelled to Xi'an to interview Professor Li Shuzhuo, a leading academic whose specialisation in sociology is the study of gender preference in China. The preference for sons has a long, long history. Long before the One Child Policy and its (no doubt unintended) consequence of an over-abundance of unmarried young men, female babies were often killed at birth. Nourry's work always begins with a research project, investigating an issue of social significance. Having worked in India, she became fascinated by the results of this gender imbalance, so deeply embedded in culture, history and social policy, and the resulting misery and social instability it causes.
Nourry decided to work with traditional skilled artisans in Xi'an, home of the original Entombed Warriors - and the gazillion reproductions sold with unrelenting fervour in every corner of that city. Those damn warriors are everywhere in Xi'an, from the doors of restaurants to the lobbies of hotels; from Starbucks, and department stores to the most run-down of tiny local shops and noodle stalls. They come in every conceivable size, in terracotta, fibreglass and plastic, and their images adorn every possible surface. You might think that by the time you have made it past the souvenir stalls with their (expensive) warrior replicas, and ignored the local government harridan who tries to force you to buy a copy of a guidebook signed by the old farmer who originally found the site (whilst digging for a well) and then survived the onslaught of hundreds of people trying to sell you touristic tat, that the real buried army may seem utterly diminished. You would be wrong. Despite being crowded in with hordes of tour groups from every corner of China, and a few hardy souls from elsewhere; even in the loud chatter and constant flash of cameras and people taking smartphone selfies, you cannot help but be awe-struck.
Nourry selected the powerful image of that buried army as her equally potent metaphor for the army of unwanted girl children in China - aborted, abandoned, orphaned, kidnapped and sold, forced into marriage or prostitution. There are more tragic stories than there were soldiers and courtiers serving the Qin Emperor. She has created an army of lost daughters.
|All photos of the Terracotta Daughters shot by Luise Guest in the NYC China Institute|