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Postponed: From Mediterranean to China: Selections from Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum Collections
February 15, 2020 @ 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
From Mediterranean to China: Selections from Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum Collections
In Chinese historical literature, the first westward journey conducted by Zhang Qian, the envoy of the Western Han Dynasty, heading to the Darouzhi, was called “zao kong”（凿空）.After this remarkable visit, the trade along this route won protection and recognition from the central government. It connected Chang’an and Rome together; starting from the middle part of the Yellow River in East Asia, over the Pamir Plateau, through Central and West Asia to the Mediterranean Sea, connecting the transportation lines of Europe and the North Africa to the east, it is an artery of communication and transportation for Eurasia.
In 1877, the German geographer F.von.Richthofen first named this famous line of transportation as the “Silk Road”. The Silk Road is not only the road of commercial trade between the East and West, but also the pass offering convenience for diplomatic ambassadors and missionaries. More importantly, a massive number of the ancient civilizations were distributed along the Silk Road, making the Silk Road a witness of great cultural exchange.
This exhibition showcases the cultural relics from ancient civilizations along the Silk Road collected by Japanese artist Mr. Hirayama Ikuo, including items from the Mediterranean area, the Mesopotamia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Speaking of categories, they include painted Greek pottery, Greek relief sculpture, Roman and Persian glassware, Persian gold and silver ware, gold and silver coins, Central Asian tapestry, India Buddhist sculpture, as well as some of the sketches drawn in Dunhuang by Mr. Hirayama. All of the 192 exhibits are from Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum. The relics from different regions and cultures with their own characteristics present the communication and integration of different civilizations.
Introduction: Hirayama Ikuo and the Art of Silk Road
Hirayama Ikuo (1930-2009), a well-known Japanese painter, former president of the Japan-China Friendship Association and former president of Tokyo University of the Arts. Mr. Hirayama believed that the Silk Road is a road where the essence of human civilizations concentrate. The study of the Japanese culture would not be possible without the exploration of the Silk Road. Since the 1960s, Mr. Hirayama and his wife Hirayama Miyuki visited the countries along the Silk Road more than 150 times. Moreover, they visited Dunhuang over 70 times. In order to explore the mysteries of cultures along the Silk Road, the couple spread their footprints throughout the vast Eurasia.
Mr. Hirayama created various famous artworks such as “the Spreading of Buddhism” and “Bamyan Buddha”. These art pieces depict the themes of Buddhism spreading, cultural exchange between the East and West, and the Silk Road. More than 600 volumes of sketches were created by Mr. Hirayama and he has been regarded as the artist who has created the largest number of themes as well as pieces of artwork about the Silk Road.
Mr. and Mrs. Hirayama developed a huge passion for the cultures related to the Silk Road. They continuously collected ancient relics during their trips and donated them to art museums. The collections of the Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Art Museum focus on the Gandhara statues and coins along the Silk Road but cover almost all forms of art in relation to the Silk Road, including sculptures, paintings, metalwork, glassware, dyed fabrics, accessories, books, etc. from the Mediterranean to West and East Asia, dating far back to ancient times and up to modern times. The museum takes up the heritage of Mr. Hirayama and spares no effort in popularizing and revitalizing cultural heritage protection.
Unit 1. The Mediterranean and Surrounding Areas
The geographical location of the Mediterranean is quite unique. Surrounded by Asia, Africa and Europe, it has been a spot of multi-cultural exchange and integration. Greece and Rome were the core civilization systems in this region. The Mediterranean boasted many good natural harbors and maritime trade had been very active in history. Its complex and diverse progresses promoted the development of human society and made extremely important contributions to world civilization.
Unit 2. Mesopotamia and Iran
Mesopotamia, in Greek, refers to the region between the river Euphrates and Tigris (now in Iraq). It gave birth to one of the earliest human civilizations which lasted from around 4000 BC to the 6th century BC, its influence reaching the Aegean Sea, Egypt, and Iranian Plateau in the east. In 538 BC, the last New Babylonian kingdom of Mesopotamia was perished by the Persian Empire. From 550 BC to 651 AD, the Iranian area was under the reign of the Persian Empire. The splendid Persian civilization, along the network of the Silk Road, connected eastern and western cultures and trade, deeply influencing the far east.
Unit 3. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India
The ancient Gandhara region covered the northwestern part of ancient India (now the northern part of Pakistan), the Peshawar valley where the Indus River and the Kabul River intersect, and the area which is the northeastern part of today’s Afghanistan. It is the core place of Eurasia. With only 200,000 square kilometers of central area, this small place was both the trade center as well as the religious center of Buddhism on the Silk Road.
The Gandhara region used to be a pivot connecting Central Asia, Western Asia, and the Mediterranean. Various civilizations like India, Persia, Greece, Rome, and even Central Asia had been long merged here. So the Gandhara Buddhist art, integrating artistic techniques of Greece, Rome, Persia and India, is extremely stereoscopic and realistic. It spread eastward across the Pamir plateau and deeply affected the development of Buddhist art in East Asia.
Unit 4. Flash back to Dunhuang: Sketch Works of Mr. Hirayama
Dunhuang, gate to the West of the “Hosi Corridor”, had significant influence in history, and witnessed the meeting and merging of eastern and western cultures. Mr. Hirayama had deep affection for Dunhuang. His first visit to Dunhuang was in 1979. Inspired and encouraged by the art of Dunhuang and the spirit of Xuan Zang the great Buddhist monk of the Tang Dynasty, for years he visited Dunhuang repeatedly and painted a large number of artworks, making significant contributions to the promotion of Dunhuang culture.
In 1990, Mr. Hirayama donated one million US dollars to set up the UNESCO Silk Road Fund sponsoring the study of Dunhuang. In 1994, he donated another 200 million Japanese Yan to establish the “Foundation for Protection and Research of Dunhuang Grottoes”. Mr. Hirayama was a passionate artist for the Silk Road and Dunghuang. He published The Sketches on Silk Road and Dunhuang: A Historic Journey, gaining amazing achievements in art as well as contributing greatly to the Sino-Japanese cultural exchange.
The Silk Road is the main passage linking the east and west. Although the 192 exhibits on display might be insufficient and unsystematic, they showcase the past glory of ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, demonstrate their magnificence in history, and present the cultural, artistic, religious and folk characteristics of these regions and their communication, exchange, mutual influence and integration.
These exhibits not only reflect the creativeness and contribution of the Silk Road cultures, but also help visitors observe, access and appreciate them, standing as an importance reference for the understanding of cultural and trade communications between China and the western world.