Peabody Essex Museum and Silk Road Project to Launch Creative Exchanges: Sights and Sounds of the Silk Road

From the first millennium B.C.E. through the middle of the second millennium C.E., a vast network of trade routes connected the people of Asia with those of Europe. These historic routes came to be known as the Silk Road and served as an important link for the exchange of knowledge and goods between East and West. Founded in 1998 by world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Silk Road Project is an organization that celebrates this vast network and symbol of multiculturalism. Acting as an umbrella organization and common resource for a number of artistic, cultural, and educational programs, the Silk Road Project illuminates living traditions and musical voices throughout the world while studying the ebb and flow of ideas among the different cultures connected to the Silk Road’s original cultural mosaic. From January 20-31, 2004, the Peabody Essex Museum’s newly transformed museum of art and culture will partner with the Silk Road Project, Inc. to present Creative Exchanges: Sights and Sounds of the Silk Road. A series of innovative performances and educational and cultural activities, the partnership will bring great works of visual art from the museum’s collection together with the international music and storytelling of the Silk Road Ensemble.

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), located in Salem, Massachusetts, showcases renowned collections from around the globe. “I’m delighted to collaborate with the Peabody Essex Museum to launch this exciting new initiative,” says Yo-Yo Ma. “The Silk Road Project and PEM share a common mission to deepen understanding and appreciation between diverse people through their art and culture. The museum’s collections, and its stunning new spaces, create an ideal place in which we can foster creativity and dialogue across places and time.” The pilot program at PEM will serve as the model for future collaborations with leading museums in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Creative Exchanges: Sights and Sounds of the Silk Road will focus on an exemplar of Huizhou architecture—Yin Yu Tang. Built circa 1800, Yin Yu Tang is a merchant’s home originally located in the rural village of Huang Cun in Southeast China. PEM brought the home to America and reassembled it on their campus as part of an ongoing cultural exchange with China. The home presents such original characteristics as a “sky well” interior courtyard and the intricately executed post-and-beam, mortise-and-tenon construction. The towering timber frame and Feng Shui considerations have been carefully replicated in the new setting. For two centuries, Yin Yu Tang was the ancestral home of the Huang family, whose members will travel from China to Salem during Creative Exchanges.

Throughout the week of the program, visitors will enjoy feature performances by Silk Road Ensemble musicians Wu Man (pipa—Chinese lute), Shane Shanahan (percussion), and Kojiro Umezaki (shakuhachi—Japanese bamboo flute) in PEM’s galleries and public spaces. The Ensemble—which is not a fixed group, but rather a collective of like-minded musicians—will be joined by internationally renowned storytellers. In addition, workshops, demonstrations, a question-and-answer session with Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma, art-making activities, and samplings of international foods at the museum’s restaurant will be held. A complete calendar of events will be posted on PEM’s Web site in the near future.