Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor: 202.357.4880 ext. 319
Barbara Kram: 202.357.4880 ext. 219
Public only: 202.357.2700
Silk Road Exhibitions at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Complement This Year’s Folklife Festival Theme “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust”

Visitors to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, celebrated on the National Mall from June 26 to June 30 and July 3 to July 7, will have an opportunity to see several Silk Road-related exhibitions in the cool, contemplative spaces of the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.). Sackler exhibitions on view include both ancient art and contemporary photographs of sacred Himalayan Buddhist sites taken by renowned Japanese photographer Kenro Izu. The Folklife Festival is titled “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust.”

Not a highway in the modern sense, the Silk Road was instead a loose network of trails connecting China, India and the Mediterranean via the mountains and deserts of Central Asia. Traveled for millennia by merchants, monks and adventurers, these routes and their scattered oasis settlements played a crucial role in both the dispersal of goods and the spread and exchange of religious ideas and cultures across the continents.

Exhibitions on view include:

  • Sacred Sites: Silk Road Photographs by Kenro Izu
    Japanese born New York photographer Kenro Izu is perhaps best known for his photographs of the ancient Buddhist temples at Angkor, Cambodia; his still-life images of decaying flowers and nudes. This exhibition of 25 large-format platinum prints focuses on sacred sites in western China, Ladakh and Tibet. Located along the historic silk trading road, the subjects include monasteries, royal tombs, ancient cities and small personal shrines set amid the immense grandeur of the Himalayas or vast and desolate deserts. Reaching beyond the purely documentary, Izu’s 14-by-20-inch prints are both starkly clear and evocatively dreamlike. Emphasizing both beauty and decay, these photographs serve as commentaries on the passage of time as they picture a range of Buddhist achievements and expressions that spread across the Asian landscape.
  • The Adventures of Hamza
    The Adventures of Hamza (or Hamzanama) is a collection of action-filled adventure stories based loosely on the exploits of Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, who traveled widely spreading the teachings of Islam, encountering giants, demons and dragons along the way. Soon after taking the throne of an empire newly re-established in India, the Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) commissioned a magnificent illustrated manuscript of the Hamzanama; it originally contained 1,400 illustrations, about 200 of which survive today. The spectacular size of the paintings, more than two feet high, allowed them to be used in public recitations by storytellers at the Mughal court, while their bold and animated style conveys the liveliness of the tales. Several series of consecutive illustrations demonstrate the interaction of the visual and textual accounts of the stories, which are fully translated in the accompanying publication and summarized in the exhibition text. “The Adventures of Hamza” brings together 61 of the finest Hamzanama illustrations from public and private collections all over the world, including a core group of 28 paintings from the principal lender to the exhibition, the MAK-Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, Vienna, whose superb holdings have never been seen in the United States. Storytellers well-versed in the legend of Hamza will perform daily in a special room in the exhibition.
  • The Cave as Canvas: Hidden Images of Worship Along the Silk Road
    This exhibition of Central Asian Buddhist murals presents a group of 15 fifth-century wall-painting fragments from the great Buddhist cave site of Qizil (also spelled Kizil) in what is now the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang—a site along the Silk Road. These intriguing and rarely seen examples of Buddhist mural painting are used to examine the religious meaning and function of a typical Chinese Central Asian Buddhist cave. The exhibition also explores the interdependent nature of the art and architectural design of these lavishly decorated cave temples. Adopted from India, the practice of excavating Buddhist caves dates back in this region to at least the third century Rock-cut cave temples represent one of the largest groups of monument from medieval Chinese Central Asia.
  • Luxury Arts of the Silk Route Empires
    In the connecting link between the Freer Gallery of Art and the Sackler Gallery, visitors can see sumptuous silver and gilt ewers, drinking bowls, and other luxury items made when the Sasanian dynasty ruled over present-day Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan (225—651). The objects on view bear witness to the influence of a wide range of artistic traditions from southwest Asia, the Mediterranean and Central Asia. Also on view are precious metal and ceramic luxury items that were in turn inspired by Sasanian works but were produced in Tang dynasty China (618—907).

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries’ Web site at

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