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Terracotta Daughters

Thursday December 19th, 2013

by Liz Ream

In the past, Chinese culture has portrayed men as strong and smart and women as weak and unintelligent. Traditionally, a woman should obey three men in her life: her father as a daughter, her husband as a wife, and her son when widowed.

Although this is slowly changing and Chinese women’s statuses continue to elevate, these traditional gender roles still persist today. Recently, New York-based French artist Prune Nourry collaborated with a Xi’an artisan on a project entitled “Terracotta Daughters,” and Zachary Bako spent 42 days over the course of 7 months documenting the project.

Prune modeled her artwork after eight Chinese orphan girls, using them interchangeably to create an army of 108 life-size terracotta daughters. Each of them were individually personalized by local craftsman, Xian Feng, to make each one unique. The same method was used with the ancient Terracotta Army. The project was financed by the sale of the 8 original sculptures, which also provides a minimum of three years of schooling to each of the eight girls.

In August 2012, Prune met the 8 orphan Chinese nationals that inspired the project through the non-profit organization The Children of Madaifu.


Prune Nourry and Xian Feng amongst their Terracotta Daughter sculptures in Xi’an, China.

The Terracotta army is made up of terracotta sculptures molded after the armies of the first Emperor of China (Qin Shi Huang), which was buried with the emperor in 210-209 BC to protect him in his after life. The sculptures were discovered by Chinese farmers in 1974, which included over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 670 horses.


Prune Nourry sculpts one of the Terracotta Daughters. The clay used in the process is the same that was dug up over 2,000 years ago for the original Terracotta Warriors.

Xian Feng patches cracks on a Terracotta Daughter.

Going into the project, Zachary anticipated challenges in preparation for 42 days shooting in the same location. However, once arrived, he realized it wouldn’t be difficult to keep things interesting:

“After arriving at the location for the first time, I soon realized it would be perfect. It was raw and had immense character. The location was a working Terracotta Warrior replica factory and Prune’s project was thrown into the mix of everyday duties. The environment inside was constantly changing throughout each step of the process. This led to a dynamic environment.”

Production began in winter, and the crew had to fight off the cold not only from themselves but also from the sculptures, wrapping them each night to prevent freezing. The crew toggled between motion and stills, capturing north of 60 gigs of material a day initially. Everything was captured in available light with no digital technicians or assistants.


The pulley system used to bring 108 Terracotta daughters to the second floor for the start of the patina (aging) process.

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Terracotta Daughters.

The sculptures were exhibited at Magda Danysz Gallery in Shanghai in September. They will head to Paris, Switzerland and then onto the United States before returning to China in 2015 to be buried until 2030 as a modern day archaeological site. Prune recently screened a 21-minute version of the feature length documentary in Miami during Art Basel on December 5, 2013. View video details from the project below:

The film will be released in 2015. For additional photos and more of Zachary’s work, visit his website.

One Response to “Terracotta Daughters”

  1. This is quite an incredible project. Thanks for featuring it!

    I work for Janssen, the pharmaceutical division of Johnson &Johnson. Janssen is named after Dr. Paul Janssen, a Belgian scientist who contributed a number of scientific advances when he was alive. He has an affinity for China, and created a small company there, Xian-Janssen, that is part of J&J. Also, an antifungal agent he discovered and develop for human use (nail fungus and such) was used to preserve the Terrecotta Army when it was first unearthed. He felt help preserve a national treasure was the least he could do for a country he loved and respected. When the Olympics were in Beijing in 2008, J&J helped transport a few of the Warriors to our Olympic venue there. It has one of the largest walk-through rates and many Chinese never thought they’d see the Warriors up close. One person told me it would be like if the Statue of Liberty was brought to Kansas for people to see.

    Here’s more:

    ~ Mark

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