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 Shanghai-based portrait photographer 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.
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.
The clay used in the process is the same that was dug up over 2,000 years ago for the original Terracotta Warriors.
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 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. The film will be released in 2015.