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March 23, 2009 | by  | in Visual Arts | [ssba]

Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Warriors of Qin exhibition was originally set to have been shipped off by now; instead, it has been extended to mid-April. Well publicised, held on the first floor of St James Theatre and charging a $10 entrance fee, this exhibition has obviously been promoted as not only a display of art, but an event in itself. The exhibition’s slogan ‘If you can’t travel to China… visit this amazing display’ highlights the organisers’ approach; to use these artefacts to bring before the viewer a recreation of their original context and excavation.

Indeed, the exhibition lies at the juncture of art and archaeological discovery. It is based on the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di (who commissioned the Great wall) and his quest for immortality. His tomb was filled with treasures and over 8000 life-size clay warriors to protect him in the after-life. Two farmers discovered these whilst trying to dig a well during a drought, an occurrence now being paraded as the archaeological discovery of the 20th century.

The display in Wellington does not contain the original artefacts, but exact replicas, divided into three main showrooms by shrouds of red fabric. The first room displays cabinets of tomb artefacts, including coins and tomb guardians, as well as five warriors that have been painted to replicate the original lacquer that shrunk and cracked as the result of sudden exposure to humidity and light when unearthed. The second room recreates the fragments of tombs as they were actually discovered.
It is the third room, however, that really warrants the payment of the entrance fee. An astounding display of terracotta warriors, 53 in total, are lined up in various positions; some crouching and others in fighting stance. Whilst these are not the originals, which cannot leave China, each warrior has been handmade at the Xian Museum, each unique in size, shape and uniform. Also included is the clay chariot pulled by four horses, cabinets of weapons and a Jade suit of armour sewn with copper thread.

This exhibition, which elicited crowds of 850,000 in the UK exhibition, is undoubtedly remarkable. At times, one does suspend belief in the exhibition’s authenticity, such as when one notices the gift store and the promoted DVDs. For the most part however, the exhibition does manage to convey something of a civilization distant both geographically and temporally. More impressively, this exhibition presents the opportunity to view intricate and large-scale artworks that were, after all, even in Xian, never actually meant to be seen.


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