All posts in “Saturday University Lecture Series”

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. 
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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
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Shawn Brinsfield stands in front of the original Camel scultpures at Seattle Art Museum

Donor Spotlight: Shawn Brinsfield Supports the Asian Art Museum

It’s nice to know that our community also thinks the future of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be cool! More than the critical infrastructure updates to the Art Deco building that won’t be very apparent to visitors, there’s the long history of Asian culture in the Seattle area made visible at the museum. To Shawn Brinsfield, the modest expansion on the back of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a physical commitment to expanding the understanding and appreciation of Asia. Read why the Asian Art Museum matters to this donor, learn more about the project, and stay up to date on the progress of the renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum.

The new Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be very cool with more space for SAM’s growing collection, better flow and open ‘look-throughs’ to the outside. I take art lessons and sometimes they take us to Volunteer Park to draw; so I look forward to sitting on my chair outside near the trees and drawing the new large glass-walled rear addition of the museum. Ok, full disclosure—I am still just learning to draw; but it will be fun viewing Asian Art Museum visitors fishbowl-like.

The average museum-goer may not appreciate the museum’s new sophisticated climate control environment, which gives the art ‘eternal life.’ Sometimes I think about the centuries of artists who made the works inside the museum. What kind of challenges and human pressures did they have? I wonder how they would react, knowing that their year-after-year sweat and toil and evolution as artists would be preserved by loving and meticulous conservationists today. It’s my understanding that the Asian Art Museum will be an important national center of conserving Asian art. And conserving art is actually a fascinating process. Really!

My mom and her family are of Japanese descent. They were living a full life here in Seattle back in the ‘good old days.’ Grandma Benko Itoi wrote tanka poetry, the family attended art events at the Nippon Kan Theater, they danced in traditional ways at the Bon Odori. Then when World War II broke out they were compelled to destroy most things related to their Japanese culture. So, 75 years later, it’s important to me to support the expansion of Japanese and Asian culture in the Seattle area.

All the art at the Asian Art Museum tells stories of history, ideas, and ways of life. In addition to enjoying the exhibitions on wooden block prints, folding screens, and Chinese scrolls, I have loved going to the Gardner Center’s Saturday University Lecture Series and listening to experts from all over the world. I value this, especially since I help recruit speakers for an Asian art and history group in Florida.

As for the future of the Asian Art Museum, I expect that the Asian Art Museum’s growth will mirror that of Asia’s increasing presence on the world stage. I hope that it continues expanding its collection of South Asian art and continues reaching out to the growing South Asian community here in the Northwest; as well as reaching out to the non-Asian community. My spending time in India on several trips has had a significant impact on my mind and behavior. I include, in my daily life, some practices and rituals which are indigenous to India and South Asia. I have a warm and friendly feeling towards the people and culture of South Asia.

– Shawn Brinsfield

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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
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