13 Dec 2018

First sneak peek of Te Papa's Terracotta Warriors exhibit

7:51 pm on 13 December 2018

A limited number of members of the public revelled at being the first people to view the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at Te Papa today.

The warriors were made to guard the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China's First Emperor and for more than 2000 years their existence remained a secret.

However, in 1974 they were rediscovered and from Saturday an army of eight men and two horses will be viewable by the New Zealand public.

Students at Mount Cook School were excited to be among the first to see the warriors.

"All of them are so different, I really like how there's so much detail put into it," said Lily Reid.

"It makes me dive into what the times would have been like, when I look at the soldiers I can picture the people making it and the King's [Emperor's] ideas," said Amalie Hendy.

But for some the exhibition held great cultural significance.

"We're quite proud we can see our country in an overseas country, I even saw the original one back home, but I still got surprised," said Massey University design student Dan Jing.

Her friend and fellow design student Syemin Sheri was taken aback by the size and features of the sculptures.

"I can't imagine how can they have such very fine details, it was very fantastic to see," she said.

Visual Artist Kerry Ann Lee, who is a third generation New Zealander with Chinese heritage, created a room in the exhibit.

The room is encased in artwork, doubling as wall paper of Chinese photos and illustrations.

"For myself and maybe a few other chinese in New Zealand who have been here for generations the Terracotta Warrior represent this emblem of chinese culture and heritage, and it's in our visual vocabulary, so I've extended that with other imagery," she said.

Ms Lee said the Terracotta Warriors were particularly important to her father who influenced the dreamscape themes of the work.

"It started off with a dream from my dad who is here, one night he said 'I had this dream I went to Xi'an' and I thought, okay that's something!" she said.

Te Papa art curator Rebecca Rice said it was great to see two years of work come to fruition.

"What I've really enjoyed is watching the grace of the installation it's been like a carefully choreographed ballet, where everyone is communicating almost by sign language and making the magic happen carefully," she said.

Standing with her in the Afterlife Room was a replica of the copper chariot and horses.

However, her favourite addition was an artefact that may be overlooked when compared with the statuesque warriors and horses - a bronze goose.

"They're very rare only 40 of them were made for the Emperor's mausoleum. I love the way his head turns on his neck and the fact his poor legs couldn't support the 30kg of bronze across the millennia," she said.

The public have until April to visit the Te Papa exhibit before the warriors jet off to their next location.