China's 2,000-year-old terracotta warriors are getting female company thanks to a Norwegian artist living next door to the farmer who first found the famous array of clay soldiers on the outskirts of Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province.
Conceptual artist, Marian Heyerdahl, has so far created 70 replicas of the terracotta warriors in female form, each of which carries a special message.
"Every one of them has a personality and each is telling a story. I made them to express my love of peace, as women suffer the most in war," said Heyerdahl, who is the daughter of famed explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
Like the original soldiers made over two millennia ago, Heyerdahl's soldiers each have a different facial expression but none are of stoic, brave men. Instead, the women's faces in her warriors often express the horrors of war.
"Some have their mouths open as if they're screaming, others have their eyes closed in fear, some are smiling and some are pregnant," said the artist who turned 49 during the three months when she's been in Xi'an working on the project.
As daughter of Thor Heyerdahl (who gained world-renown for his Kon-Tiki Expedition), she said she was raised exploring famous archeological sites. Yet, her love and admiration of the Xi'an site can be felt. "It's just fantastic to be here, it feels like I'm working on an archaeological site. Just dig below my feet and I'm sure you'll find something. My neighbor is the man who dug the well and discovered the first warriors in the 1970s."
Heyerdahl is working with a factory that makes life-sized copies of the warriors, which stand almost two meters tall and are sold as novelties around the world. She said the factory has likely sold more replicas than there are originals. The museum across the street from her studio houses thousands of original terracotta warriors.
On her first visit to China over five years ago, she bought one of the replicas that now stands guard over her studio in Norway. Her purchase also proved to be the inspiration for her current project.
"I was sitting there with my husband looking at the big, impressive general, when I noticed his uniform looks like a woman's skirt. I realized it wouldn't be hard to turn him into a woman and my husband thought it was a fantastic idea."
Now, almost five years later, Heyerdahl is working with the still-wet statues as they come out of the factory molds. From behind the warriors retain their original uniform and hairstyle but the front is entirely re-sculpted.
"I add breasts and change the hairstyle to a woman's and give the pregnant ones big tummies. Some have their mouths open and others have their eyes closed. From the back they look like the original warriors but from the front they deliver a different message."
That message, encapsulating not only the women that die in war but also the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of the dead, is one that Heyerdahl hopes will make people stop and think.
"Everyday there's killing around the world. War has always been a problem; whether it's 2,000 years ago or right now or in the future, war is horrible," said Heyerdahl who is not at all optimistic about the future.
After her warriors are kiln-dried and painted, she plans to first exhibit them in Beijing. The show is currently scheduled for February in Space 798, the largest gallery in Beijing's 798 alternative art community.
"In Beijing, I'll also add some multi-media elements including a DVD of war that will be seen on screens in the stomachs of a number of the statues," Heyerdahl said.
Heyerdahl is looking for sponsors to take her project to other parts of the world. She said she wants to show in Xi'an and there's been interest from an anti-war exhibit in South Korea and inquiries from the US. "I just want to get my message out there," said the artist.
(Xinhua News Agency October 16, 2006)