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05 July 2019

Electronic exhibition “Sogdians – their influence on the Silk Road” opened in Washington

On June 30, 2019, an international electronic exhibition was opened in Washington under the thematic title “Sogdians – their influence on the Silk Road” – “sogdians.si.edu”.

This exhibition, organized with the support of the Embassy of Uzbekistan, was held by the famous Gallery of Freer and Sackler of the American Smithsonian Institution. It was attended by leading scholars, historians, orientalists, authoritative experts in archival and museum affairs, experts in the field of studying ancient civilizations and beliefs from countries such as the United States, Britain, China and others.

The fundamental work of an international group of scientists and researchers who have worked on this project for more than 10 years has given its result. The electronic exhibition was created within the framework of the practical implementation of a memorandum of cooperation between the Gallery of Freer and Sackler of the Smithsonian Institution and the Uzbek side, signed during the visit of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the USA in May 2018.

The idea to collect from all over the world a collection of artifacts of Sogdian civilization into a single digital museum accessible to all belongs to Julian Rabbi, honorary director of the Freer and Sackler Gallery. The project was curated by Thomas Vidiz (Smithsonian Institution), Judith Lerner (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York) and Cimon Keramidas (New York University).

The project was funded by the Leon Levy Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution’s Scholarly Studies Awards. The exhibition brought together scientists from Uzbekistan, USA, Russia, China, Japan, Great Britain, France and Italy.

The research and museum institutions, such as the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, the National Gallery of Art, the State Hermitage Museum of Russia, the Moscow State Museum of Oriental Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (USA), the British Library, the Chinese National Silk Museum, Yale (USA), Bologna (Italy), Cornell (USA), New York (USA), London (United Kingdom), Kyoto (Japan) universities and others.

Sogdian urban culture, embodied in the rich colors of wall paintings and exceptional fabrics, metal structures and sculptures, is at the epicenter of the current exhibition. Each visitor to the digital museum now has the opportunity to dive deeper, explore the Sogdian objects, travel along the Silk Road on an interactive map, and observe how leading scientists discuss their latest research.

One of the unique qualities of this collection is that the exhibition was able to gather into one whole the objects of art and culture of ancient Sogdiana, which are kept in different museums of the world. And this makes it possible for both scholars and ordinary visitors to form a single picture of the Sogdians.

The exhibition itself is divided into three sections: historical records of Sogdian art and culture, Sogdian art and culture in 25 sites, historical trade routes of Sogdians.

The first section is devoted to the origin of the first state formation in the modern territory of Uzbekistan – Sogdiana, located in the valley of the river Zerafshan. It is believed that the Sogdians, along with other Turanian tribes and peoples, are one of the ancestors of the modern Uzbeks.

The objects of art, life and production found in the digital museum in the territories of modern China, South and Southeast Asia show the large-scale influence of the culture and traditions of the Sogdian peoples on neighboring regions, as well as the developed trade between ancient civilizations.

The second section presents a unique opportunity for visitors to get acquainted with the artifacts of the time. The technology used 3D-scan allows you to look at objects to the smallest detail from all sides. All exhibits have detailed descriptions of their origin and purpose. Most of the items were manufactured and found in such ancient cities around the current Samarkand as Sogd, Afrasiyab and others.

The third section describes the key meaning of Afrasiab, modern Samarkand in trade along the Silk Road. The city of the same name, along with Bukhara, Paikend, Kesh, one of the important megalopolises in Sogdian, led an advanced economy based on a combination of agriculture, mining, metal processing and trade.

By the 7th century, commerce through retailers had resulted in Afrasiab and Chang’an (modern Xi’an, PRC) becoming cosmopolitan centers larger than others in Europe at that time. However, they were about 4,800 km away from mountains and deserts. A dangerous journey of trade caravans could take more than six months, which is equivalent to a pedestrian crossing from the east coast of the United States to the west.

During the detailed presentation of this project, visitors showed a lively interest in culture, customs, religion, government, trade and political relations of Sogdiana. Researchers have provided detailed answers to the questions asked. It was especially noted that the Sogdians tried to minimize military-political risks and focused on the development of their own economy, thereby increasing the well-being of their people.

According to the Embassy of Uzbekistan in the United States, the presentation of the Sogdiana project in London is expected in the near future. In addition, in September in the diplomatic mission of our country in Washington, DC, a scientific-practical seminar is planned on the development of the art of music in Central Asian countries.

Earlier, in May of this year, a delegation from the Smithsonian Institution was organized in Uzbekistan, during which negotiations and a number of meetings with Uzbek scientists were held, collections of a number of state museums were studied, and training seminars and round tables were organized with the participation of local experts and specialists in areas of museum and art.

The Smithsonian Institution is a research and educational institute in the United States that owns a complex of museums. Founded in 1846. The institute got its name in honor of the English scientist James Smithson, who bequeathed his entire fortune to “establish an institution in the United States that will serve the development and dissemination of knowledge.” The Freer and Sackler Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution where works of art from Asia are kept.

Last year, the Freer and Sackler Gallery presented a unique collection of Uzbek atlas and adras of the XIX-XX centuries, as well as costumes from the famous American designer Oscar Renta, which the head of our state got acquainted with during his stay in the USA.