Tavka fresco, Tavka, Samarkand region, 7th-8th century.
Silk Across the Sands, Sidebar
Treasures on View: The Genesis
of an Exhibition
By Dilys Pegler Winegrad
On Nov. 8,
"Treasures of Uzbekistan: The Great Silk Road" opened at the Arthur Ross
Gallery in the presence of a distinguished delegation from Tashkent. Guest-curated
by Dr. Fredrik Hiebert, the Robert H. Dyson Jr. Assistant Professor of
Anthropology, the show includes more than 300 rare objects in a range
of media from over four millennia of Uzbek history and culture.
The first such exhibition organized in the United States
came about as a result of an edict promulgated by President Islam Karimov
of Uzbekistan. This Ukaz gave Professor Hiebert, whose archaeological
investigations in Uzbekistan date from graduate work at Harvard, a free
hand to select material.
The first of many challengesand the least intractable
in a scenario that often combined extreme suspense with high comedywas
finding a place for the exhibition. Museum schedules are normally in place
months and years in advance, but the Arthur Ross Gallerys repertoire
includes efforts to accommodate brilliant proposals from Penns gifted
faculty in its mission. Major tinkering with a schedule fully subscribed
through the end of the 2000-2001 academic year became necessary. Besides
being at too-short notice and too fraught with hazard, however, the idea
Subsequent problems ranged from how many Philadelphia
venues might be possiblewe ended up with just oneto the diversity
of objects from five museums in Samarkand and Tashkent, none of whose
directors or curators ultimately traveled to the United States for the
opening. On a whirlwind visit to all the loaning institutions on his way
back from excavations at Black Sea sites in August, curator Hiebert set
aside approved objects for packing and shipping to Philadelphia. Yet in
mid-September, when I was finally able to travel to make last-minute arrangements,
I encountered little regard for the Uzbek phrase ohirgi mudatt:
deadline. As e-mails flew at ungodly hours between hotsam@ online.ru (Hotel
Samarkand) and Hiebert@SAS, it became evident that if objects were to
arrive in time for installation, it would be through the intervention
and persistence of Ambassador Sodyq Safaev and his staff in Washington.
The entire undertaking succeeded only, in Fred Hieberts estimation,
through adam gar chalikthe helpfulness of friends.
The evening of Nov. 8, before the crowd moved across
the street for a performance of top dancers and musicians from Uzbekistan
in the Harrison Auditorium, the ambassador and guests were welcomed by
University Provost Robert Barchi. Taking time out from the exhibition,
they sampled plates piled high with plov (pilaf) prepared by chefs
imported for the occasion. Professor Hieberts unerring eye for detail
alone ensured that some food would remain for the tired performers.
Dr. Dilys Pegler Winegrad Gr70
is director and curator of the Arthur Ross Gallery.
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Photography by Candace diCarlo