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Avec Motifs Apparents: Terracotta Daughters

An in situ installation that blends ancient discovery with contemporary gender issues

by Isabelle Doal
on 14 April 2014

Centquatre (aka 104) is one of Paris' newly opened and exciting art centers. Along with Gaité Lyrique, this new generation of venues are no longer just art galleries, but spaces that are more easily accessible to visitors, and in which creativity, culture and every genre of art is welcomed. Formerly a city funeral home, located at the edge of the city, 104 offers huge spaces in which anybody can create—whether it be rehearsing for a performance art show or just dancing around—making it a lively, buzzing place.

The new exhibition at 104—"Avec Motifs Apparents" (translating to the opposite of the phrase "for no apparent reason")—is directly connected with the space of the venue, since artists have been asked to create in situ installations.


A highlight of this group show, is the ongoing, wholly impressive (and not just because of its overwhelming dimensions) "Terracotta Daughters" by 29-year-old French artist Prune Nourry. Echoing the world famous Terracotta Army (which dates back to the third century BC and represents China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang's army), the "Terracotta Daughters" project features over a hundred statues representing Chinese girls. This group is an army of the never-born, due to China's one-child policy resulting in selective female infanticide.

The statues—which took a year and a half to complete—are modeled after eight orphan girls from rural areas that Nourry met. Each "Daughter" is unique—resulting from different combinations of head, torso and legs and were completed in collaboration with local Chinese Xi'an craftsmen. Nourry thus learnt the traditional techniques to create patina and manipulate terracotta in a way that renders the individual appearances and attitudes of the little girls.


Nourry's army will travel to various cities before returning to China in 2015 and will then be buried until 2030, following the footsteps of the original Terracotta Army, which was discovered in 1974 and excavated from pits in a gigantic funerary complex. 2030 marks the year in which the inevitable effects of the one-child policy (and selective abortion) will be undeniably evident. It is predicted that by 2030, 25% of Chinese men in their late 30s will never marry due to the imbalanced sex ratio.

The eight original sculptures have been bought by collectors, who were not allowed to chose "their" girl, further pressing the issue of selection. Each purchase supports the education of the girls who served as models. Nourry is also working on a documentary about the project which is slated to be released next year.

"Avec Motifs Apparents" is on show at Paris' Centquatre through 10 August 2014.

Photos by Isabelle Doal

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