Several years ago I wrote a paper on The Silk Road for an archaeology class and a friend happened to pick the same subject matter for her paper. So it seemed only appropriate that we should visit this exhibit at the Bowers Museum together.
I have seen various exhibits at the Bowers Museum—the previous one being the Terracotta Warriors—and I have never been disappointed. The presentation of Secrets of the Silk Road is no exception. The ancient Silk Road was made up of trade routes that crossed the desert resulting in the exchange of goods and the intermingling of cultures including China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece, and Rome. There are about 150 pieces on view including mummies, preserved food, textiles, coffins, and even eye shades, allowing us a glimpse into the life of that era.
Unfortunately, as with most special exhibits, no photography of the objects in this gallery is allowed, so you will have to visit the Bowers in person. There is, of course, a catalog available—very tempting.
Although the Silk Road was the reason for our visit, we also took a look at several other worthwhile exhibits.
Masters of Adornment: The Miao People of China. A fascinating look at the textiles and jewelry of these people of southwest China.
Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands. Other than the Silk Road, this was my favorite exhibit. The cultures of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia are represented here including New Guinea, land of the headhunter. Gorgeous objects made from shells and feathers are displayed along with weapons and magical items. Again, sorry, no photography allowed.
Where Masks Still Dance: New Guinea. Forty stunning black and white photographs depicting this culture of masked ceremonies and crocodile cults.
Ancient Arts of China: A 5000 Year Legacy. The evolution of Chinese technology, art, and culture as curated by authorities of Chinese history from the Shanghai Museum.
And these exhibits I have mentioned are just the highlights—we visited other areas of the museum also—but too much to talk about here.
The diversity and ingenuity of humankind never ceases to impress me. Tiny pockets of small islands have their own individual customs and art separate from the village over the hill. Yet when we depict aliens from another planet we tend to stereotype them as homogenous—all speaking one language with one set of customs for their entire planet. It boggles my mind to think of what must be the reality: a universe teeming with millions or even billions of different ways of life, languages, dialects, and means of expression. And I have a hard time coping with what I see in one museum.
Another thought that struck me as I visited the exhibits is that along with art in general, one of the things that sets us apart from animals is the penchant for self-ornamentation. I don’t see cats and dogs standing in line for tattoos or piercing their nostrils to insert bones or diamonds.
For lunch we ate at Tangata, the museum restaurant. I have wanted to eat here since my first visit and I am happy to report it was a good experience. We both ordered the mushroom/cheese omelette which was delicious. The service was prompt and our waiter very friendly. We chose to sit outside on the patio which overlooks the courtyard.
Of course, a visit to any museum is not complete without a stop at the gift shop. I especially like the Bowers store which is full of intriguing items, all of which I would like to take home. Fortunately my wallet said otherwise and I was content to be merely a lookey loo until another day.
For more information: http://www.bowers.org (Just a note, as of May 22, 2010, the website does not seem to be working properly. I’ll check back later to verify this.)
(All photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)