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Gardner Center goes down the Silk Roads of History

What is it about Silk Roads history and art that interests so many people? In the late 19th century, German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term ‘Silk Road’ or ‘Silk Routes’ as part of his map-making efforts. After all, better maps of travel routes had commercial value for access to coal or building railroads, for instance. In the early 20th century, several spectacular “discoveries” (ie, new to the West) of magnificent troves of art and manuscripts in Central Asia and western China fueled the fascination.

Courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Wu Jian. 

Now the plural ‘Silk Roads’ is used to better describe the many complex historic trade routes through the Eurasian continent. The idea of commercial exchange across a continent that involved interactions of many cultures, languages, religions, and arts can be such an appealing picture of cosmopolitan societies—in contrast to present-day tensions at home and abroad. “Silk Road nostalgia” refers to interpreting this history in the imagination as a time of tolerance and international understanding as well as prosperity, rooted in hope for peaceful and respectful global exchange in future.

The Jewel of Muscat, a reconstructed replica of a ninth century Omani trading ship, sails into the harbour of Galle, 116 km (72 miles) south of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, on April 19, 2010. The ship, built in a traditional design without nails and sewn together with coconut fibers, left Oman on February 15 to re-enact the old trade routes used by Arab traders, with its final port of call in Singapore, according to the organizers of the voyage. AFP PHOTO/ Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI. (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The fall Saturday University Lecture Series, Silk Roads Past and Present: From Ancient Afghan Treasure to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, presents current understandings in seven lectures. Beginning with a talk on the Begram Hoard excavated in Afghanistan, we consider how these storerooms from the first century CE could contain Roman glass, Chinese lacquer, and extraordinarily carved ivories from India. A talk on Maritime Silk Roads explores the shipping that actually transported more goods than overland routes, despite the persistent image of camel caravans.

Bodhisattva leading a lady to the Pure Land (detail), Chinese, Tang dynasty, c. 851–900 CE, Hanging scroll, Ink and colors on silk, Height: 80.5 centimetres, Width: 53.8 centimetres, ©️Trustees of the British Museum. 

The Silk Roads also saw the spread of Buddhism, and two speakers explore Buddhist art in China. Two lesser-known religions are introduced in a talk on Zoroastrian and Manichaean arts. And what about silk? Find out about silk and fashion in Tang Dynasty China, as trade made new textile technologies, colors, and patterns available.  The series concludes with a talk on China’s current international initiative also referred to as the New Silk Road. Please join us!

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Image: Mogao Cave 237. Image courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Zhang Weiwen. 

Spring Brings Trans Plants to Saturday University Lecture Series

Are you gearing up your garden for spring? Think about plants in all new ways when you attend the Gardner Center’s Spring Saturday University Lecture Series.

Join us for five talks by speakers who think about plants in Asia from different perspectives. First, on March 16, we’ll hear about penjing—the Chinese predecessor to bonsai—plus how and why a Southern Chinese style inspires contemporary bonsai artists across the world. Our speaker Aarin Packard, curator of the Pacific Bonsai Museum, explains how he first became interested in bonsai: “As a kid I was exposed to bonsai by my father and by Mr. Miyagi [from “The Karate Kid”).

Next, on March 30, Jerome Silbergeld will share his art historian’s perspective on Chinese gardens, and what they meant to their creators.

Clearly, bonsai and gardens are both art forms that are constantly changing.  The series continues through April with talks on matsutake mushrooms, eucalyptus plantations, and botanical collecting in the mountains of Yunnan Province in Southwest China—one of the world’s richest places in biodiversity.

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Images: Photo: Pacific Bonsai Museum. Photo: Jerome Silbergeld

Gardner Center: Making Shawl Talk

This spring SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas is out and about, hosting happenings in Bellevue and Columbia City! Please join us on March 29 for a SAM members’ reception and public program at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Featuring Rosemary Crill on Kashmir Shawls and the West, she will speak in conversation with historian Prof. Anand Yang, University of Washington

Kashmir shawls launched an amazing global fashion phenomenon. When introduced to Europe from India in the late 18th century, the soft goats’ wool (“cashmere”) was a new sensation, as were their paisley patterns. Even the word, “shawl’,” was introduced to English from the Persian term also used in India.

British and French textile producers rushed to invent ways to make cheaper imitations—and lo and behold, it’s the Industrial Revolution and colonial enterprise in action. Once the British shawls not only replaced imports from Kashmir but were exported in huge quantities to India, Kashmir’s highly-skilled and specialized weavers were doomed.

This colonial dynamic paralleled the much larger-scale damage to India’s cotton weavers. Protest in India and a social movement to boycott foreign goods led in time to the independence movement—think of Gandhi and his spinning wheel. As Crill points out in The Fabric of India exhibition catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015), “the effect of this reversal in the direction of trade . . . was to affect the subsequent history of South Asia and the world as a whole.”

Rosemary Crill, former Senior Curator for South Asia at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, is a legend in the textile world. As part of the discussion, an unidentified old textile piece from India from a Washington museum collection will be shown to Crill for her assessment. Be there to find out more!

Shawls

Can you tell which of these are from Kashmir and which are the British versions?

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Images: Early Kashmir Shawl, early 19th century, Indian, cashmere, 128 x 49 in., Gift of Mrs. Reginald H. Parsons, Seattle Art Museum 36.52. Shawl, 1856, Scottish, wool, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.327. image in the public domain. Shawl, 1865–75, Scottish, wool and silk; Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Catherine Courtney, 1933; 2009.300.3010 image in the public domain. Shawl, mid-19th century, Attributed to India, Kashmir; Wool, silk; double interlocking twill tapestry weave, embroidered, pieced; Gift of H. de B. Parsons, 1923; Metropolitan Museum of Art 23.126.1. image in the public domain. Kashmir shawl, ca.1830, Kashmir, for the Western market, woven pashmina wool, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, IS 96-1948. Muslin dress and Kashmir shawl. Dress, Indian muslin made up in England, ca.1805-10. Shawl, Kashmir for the western market, ca.1750-60. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Circ. 30-1958 (dress); IM 17-1915 (shawl).Victoria and Albert Museum. Preliminary sketch design for paisley shawl, Scotland. Plate XI in Matthew Blair, The Paisley Shawl and the Men Who Produced It, Alexander Gardner: 1904. Detail, top image. Early Kashmir Shawl, early 19th century, Indian, Kashmir, 128 x 49 in., Gift of Mrs. Reginald H. Parsons, Seattle Art Museum 36.52. Kashmir shawl, after 1865, Indian, wool with embroidery, 82 x 81 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, Seattle Art Museum 40.87

Boundaries of Belonging with the Gardner Center

Debating critical issues over immigration and refugee issues, and the security of national borders in the US can escalate quickly or quickly become tiresome. But, through inquiry, SAM’s Gardner Center offers an alternative way of engaging with, and thinking about, global events that impact us all. The Saturday University Lecture Series beginning this week, is a chance to reflect and discuss how some of these issues manifest around the world. Six outstanding speakers will consider various ways that national borders and other boundaries are created, maintained, and crossed in different parts of Asia in the winter lecture series, Boundaries of Belonging.

Two major events of the mid-20th century that resulted in new national borders—between India and Pakistan, and the formation of North and South Korea—still have resonance in international tensions. Our first speaker, David Gilmartin, looks at the Partition of India and Pakistan in terms of dividing the Indus River Basin, which was then the site of the world’s largest integrated river irrigation system. Next up is the DMZ that separated the members of so many families between North and South Korea. Suk-Young Kim considers that heavily militarized border as a site of intense emotion over the conflicting bonds of family and nation, and discusses various forms of border crossing.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, President Duterte has declared war on marginalized communities within their own nation. While most Filipinos are removed from the violence, Vicente Rafael discusses the work of photojournalists who aim to bring national and international attention to the victims of this “drug war.”

 In a comparison of the treatment of Koreans living in Japan and Japanese Americans in the US during World War II, Tak Fujitani uncovers how both governments recruited among these communities for military service as their duty to the nation, while at the same time denying them full rights.

How to imagine a refugee camp of over 650,000 Rohingya people in Bangladesh? Azeem Ibrahim shares his research conducted over several visits to Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Our final speaker, Lucinda Ramberg, considers issues of religion, caste and gender among a Buddhist community in South India.

Join us and consider the many questions raised during the Saturday University Lecture Series. Tickets are still available to the series and individual lecture tickets are sold at the door, day-of.

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Photo: NASA

This Saturday: Yoga Morning and Diwali Ball Night

Doesn’t it seem that every Seattle neighborhood has a yoga studio? At SAAM too, you can begin your Saturday with a yoga session at 8:30am, offered by 8 Limbs Yoga, before the 9:30am Saturday University talks. (Beginners welcome: pay by voluntary donation.)

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Sacred Sites of Asia series at SAAM

The Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas kicks off a second year of programs with a series of outstanding speakers on Sacred Sites of Asia! These nine sessions are a sampling of new perspectives and images, from the Angkor Wat temple of Cambodia, to an Australian aboriginal forest, Buddhist caves of the Chinese Gobi Desert, and Zen monasteries.

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Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

William Dalrymple’s new book with this title just became available in the U.S. a couple of days ago. As intriguing, illuminating and playful as his previous books (The Last Mughal, White Mughals, City of Djinns and more), it is also a mix of historical storytelling, travel adventures,  and deep insight.

We are lucky enough to have him coming to speak next Thursday, June 24, at 7 pm at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, thanks to Elliott Bay Books and Random House.

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An Entrancing Music of Pakistan and India

Those who went to the Meany Hall concert of Pakistani musician Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in 1993 will still remember the thrill of hearing his voice and his group—with the audience dancing, and dollar bills being thrown onto the stage! It was a taste of the power of qawwali, the musical tradition of Sufis in Pakistan and India.

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Buddhism and Human Rights–Is This a Conflict?

We have heard more details recently about the ongoing war in isolated Burma [Myanmar]–especially this week in Seattle. Human rights reporter Mac McClelland was here, talking about her experiences living in Thailand by the Burmese border, an area swollen with refugee camps. She lived with Burmese dissidents, members of one of the ethnic groups targeted by Burmese government genocide, who risk their lives regularly by secretly crossing into Burma to document atrocities of the government’s ethnic-cleansing campaign.

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