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e-Bulletin

Nara to Norwich: art and belief at the ends of the Silk Roads, AD 500-1100

Later this month our Executive Director Simon Kaner and Andy Hutcheson, Research Fellow in our Centre for Archaeology and Heritage, will be speaking, albeit online, at the Annual Meeting of the Japanese Archaeological Association, at the invitation of the Japanese Journal of Archaeology. We will be using the opportunity to launch the first part of our new online exhibition, Nara to Norwich: art and belief at the ends of the Silk Roads.

Our Nara to Norwich initiative, exploring the relationship between art and religion through a comparative study of the adoption of Buddhism in Korea and Japan and the conversion to Christianity around the North Sea, was originally intended to lead to a major exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. While we still plan further real-world exhibition interventions in East Anglia and further afield, we have taken the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to deconstruct the notion of a single large exhibition as the best way to tell our stories, and reformulate the project to explore narratives through a range of different forms between now and 2025. The online exhibition follows on from Faces of Faith, a ‘hybrid’ digital and physical exhibition based around one of the Japanese treasures in the Sainsbury Centre.

Trumpington Brooch. © Cambridge University

The project was initially inspired by our involvement with the UNESCO World Heritage nomination of the Sacred Island of Okinoshima Associated Sites of the Munakata Region, for which Simon Kaner was commissioned to work on the comparative study of religious sites around the world, which then kicked off with a special session at the Society for East Asian Archaeology in Nanjing in summer 2018, followed that autumn with a workshop in Norwich in autumn 2018. Then came a study visit to Korea and Japan in summer 2019, and the team will be in Scandinavia in June this year, deepening our understanding of the contexts within which the remarkable Helgö Buddha ended up in a Viking house in Sweden, and early Medieval Scandinavians were buried with silk accoutrements. We are grateful to the Toshiba International Foundation for their generous support of this research.

The project draws on an extensive network of specialist partners and is leading to a new appreciation of the role of religion in spreading ideas and commodities along the Silk Roads, far beyond their usually defined ends in China and the Mediterranean. Our Professor of Silk Roads Studies, Susan Whitfield has for many years directed the International Dunhuang Project from the British Library, which houses many of the exceptional collections assembled during multiple expeditions to central Asian by Aurel Stein. We are also benefitting from collaboration with the Central Asian Archaeological Landscapes Project at UCL directed by Professor Tim Williams.

Content for the online exhibition has been created by Susan Whitfield, Andy Hutcheson and Naomi Hughes-White, one of our initial cohort of students on our MA in Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies, who wrote her dissertation on critical approaches to online exhibitions and is developing an expertise in digital heritage, which she will further refine as a Japanese Government MEXT Scholar at the Art Research Center at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto from this autumn. Our intention is to continue to add content to the exhibition over the coming three years, and to complement it with a series of real-world interventions in Scandinavia, Korea and Japan.

At the end of February, in partnership with the Kyoto National Museum, we took part in a special conference on forged historical documents from the Dunhuang Buddhist cave complex in western China. The presentations from the conference are now available online, with translations in English, Chinese and Japanese:

The symposium program (Japanese and English, with speaker profiles and presentation titles) and informational fliers are available from the Kyoto National Museum’s website (Japanese, English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese). The website also lists various online resources and events mentioned during the symposium.

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