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Susan L. Beningson. Buddhist Art at the Gateway of the Silk Road

The earliest surviving Buddhist cave-temples in China were carved into the landscape of the remote northwest regions of present-day Gansu province and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Located at the intersection of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts, near the remote borders of the Chinese empire, the monastic complex at Dunhuang was established near an oasis that nourished a major military garrison and trading post on the ancient Silk Road. This location at the crossroads of trade, military and pilgrimage routes helped position the Thousand Buddha Caves (Qianfodong) at the Mogao grottoes as a major religious centre in medieval China.

In 2013, China Institute in New York is celebrating ‘The Year of Dunhuang’ with a series of exhibitions and programmes (www.chinainstitute.org/gallery/dunhuang). Launching the events this spring is ‘Dunhuang: Buddhist Art at the Gateway of the Silk Road’ (19 April-21 July 2013), curated by Director of the Dunhuang Academy Fan Jinshi. The 492 surviving Mogao Caves are a treasury of Chinese Buddhist art dating from the early 5th to the 14th century, and the exhibition brings together artefacts including sutras, dedicatory banners and votive plaques discovered at Dunhuang, along with two replica cave-temples recreated by the academy in the New York galleries. The organizers hope that this hybrid exhibition strategy will enhance the visitor experience and that the spatial context of the replica caves will allow for greater understanding of the religious function of the cave-temples. 

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