Sailing the Seas: CityU’s Gallery depicts the rare history of the Maritime Silk Road | Exhibitions | THE VALUE


The Land Silk Road is a popular topic in museum and gallery exhibitions. We often see depictions of cave paintings from Dunhuang, one of the peaks of cross-cultural artistic interactions and the spread of Buddhism through the Silk Road.

But the Maritime Silk Road is under-documented. Indra and Harry Banga Gallery at the City University of Hong Kong wants to change this trend and showcase the Maritime Silk Road with their current exhibition, Atlas of Maritime Buddhism.

So what is the Maritime Silk Road?

In Asia, the Large Circle area has been divided into two key regions. The top half of the Large Circle This is also where the Land Silk Road stretched mainly into the western and central parts of Eurasia, while the lower half was the Maritime Silk Road which stretched through the east and the Southeast Asia. There were many types of commercial products, where spices were shipped from west to east Eurasia, while pottery, porcelain, and jewelry were traded in the opposite direction. Another key commercial product was Buddhism, where Buddhist practices, philosophy, art, and architecture spread to the eastern, central, and southeastern parts of Eurasia.

Importance of technology

The value spoke in more detail about the exhibit to the exhibit’s co-curator, Jeffrey Shaw. The other co-curator is Sarah Kenderdine, specialist in digital museology.

According to Shaw, the exhibit wants to tell many interactive stories using new media techniques. During the digital recording, 70 locations were photographed – 10 locations in 7 countries including India, Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia. Two key photographic techniques – photogrammetry and the spherical gigapixel – were used. Photogrammetry involves taking 100-200 photos of an object and then combining them into a rotating 3D model using visual software. Spherical gigapixel is when a camera takes 360 degree photos and viewing can be done by rotating the point of view (POV). These technologies are illustrated through the 10 3D models in the exhibit, as well as depictions of a total of 20 Indian caves, as well as other depictions of Indian, Chinese and Thai Buddhist ceremonies.

IDome hemispherical projection. Viewers can have an immersive experience during the exhibition and can navigate 20 Indian caves.

A key medium is the 360 ​​degree panoramic navigator. Shaw mentioned that the exhibit didn’t want to limit visitors to 1 person wearing virtual reality glasses, especially during the pandemic. In the Atlas Panorama, five 360-degree panoramic films take viewers on an immersive journey across the oceans to visit these sites. The projection is done via the Panoramic Navigator, inside a circular screen 5 meters in diameter, where spectators can orient the projection to focus on their areas of interest. A large number of panoramic images are also interactively provided to the visitor in the linear browser.

Panoramic navigator. Visitors can choose from 7 countries and experience the unique Buddhist art and architecture of each territory.

Linear navigation technology is another key new medium used in the exhibit. Viewers can swipe the TV screen left or right to travel through 7 countries including India, Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Borobudur in Indonesia. The images move very quickly, so visitors are advised to take the time to view them.

Vaishali, in the Indian region of Bihar, is one of the key sites featured in the exhibition’s linear navigation technology feature.

This site was used for the Second Buddhist Council around 383 BCE.

The harmonious marriage between real and publicized versions of Buddhist sculptures is evident throughout the exhibition.

Project launch

The foundations of the project began when the American scholar and Buddhist Lewis Lancaster, felt that the history of the Maritime Silk Road was unfamiliar to the public and wanted to make an exhibition on the subject. Lancaster first discussed the project with the other co-curator of this exhibition, Sarah Kenderdine in 2015.

After a successful application, the conservation team toured Asia for fieldwork. It was an arduous process to start photography in each country, as approval sometimes took up to 6 months from local authorities. The exhibition photography team would then send 3 members, including 2 photographers and 1 co-curator – either Shaw or Kenderdine. Capturing these key religious places not only helps visitors travel virtually to the outside world, but also helps alleviate stress on Buddhist relics that are over-visited and damaged.

Shaw said the identical project first appeared at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Museum in Taiwan, but the opening of its permanent exhibition at their premises was delayed from March 2021 due to the pandemic until recently. CityU’s exhibition had a different exhibition strategy than Fo Guang Shan, as it wanted to display a marriage of actual sculptures assembled from local museums and collectors in Hong Kong, as well as high-profile items.

The introductory section of the Museum’s exhibit provides detailed information about the different types of pilgrims and Buddhist art.

One of the key Buddhist images was Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (commonly known as Guanyin). He represents infinite wisdom and mercy, delaying his own path to Buddhahood to help other sentient beings attain enlightenment.

Other key images of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Visitors can see a mixture of the Great Being in sitting and standing postures.

Key sections

The exhibition is divided into three key sections – maritime commerce, Buddhist art and architecture, and new media. Monks, such as Faxian (337-422 CE), Yijing (635-713 CE), and Atisa (982-1054 CE), made pilgrimage trips with merchant ships through the Maritime Silk Road, so that ‘they can study Buddhism and disseminate its teachings. They also gave a sense of protection to merchants and sailors, during dangerous situations such as storms, pirates and inclement weather. The monks founded key monasteries upon their arrival at different port bases.

Merchant ships played a key role in the delivery of commodities. Buddhist pilgrims normally joined their journeys and gave merchants and sailors an added sense of security.

The depictions of Sakyamuni Buddha were initially aniconical, as ancient artists were reluctant to portray the Buddha in human form. Symbols such as the footprints of the Buddha or Buddhapada, the Dharma wheel and the Bodhi tree were used. After the death of the Buddha, iconic and unique representations of Sakyamuni Buddha began to develop in Asian Buddhist countries. Stupas were also built in commemoration of the Wiserest. These sacred architectures have spread from India to Asia, each country again having its own specificities. stupa or pagoda style.

Lu She Na Buddha, Longmen Caves, Henan Province, China.

Bodhi tree, 2nd century, Sunga period, Bharhut, Indian Museum, Kolkata, India.

Buddhapada or Footprints, 2nd century, Kushan Empire, Gandhara, collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Wheel of Dharma. A key symbol representing the spread of the teachings of the Buddha.

Upcoming projects

Creating a traveling exhibition using this version as a transferable modular is the immediate ambition of the Museum. Shaw also said that different media, especially the 360-degree interactive viewing environment, can be adapted to smaller and larger spaces. For example, the exhibition in Taiwan was 600 square meters, while the current exhibition in Hong Kong is 50% larger at 900 square meters.

When the pandemic stabilizes, Shaw also said the museum’s curatorial and photography team hopes to complete digital recording of the 4 remaining Grand Circle countries – Japan, Korea, Laos and Vietnam.

Exhibition details:

“Atlas of Maritime Buddhism”

Place: Indra and Harry Banga Gallery. 18 / F, Lau Ming Wai Academic Building, Hong Kong City University.

Appointment: Now until October 3, 2021

Time: Every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Except Monday)

Exhibition website:

Pre-registration is required.


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