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Inset: 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

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 challenges—and the least intractable in a scenario that often combined extreme suspense with high comedy—was finding a place for the exhibition. Museum schedules are normally in place months and years in advance, but the Arthur Ross Gallery’s repertoire includes efforts to accommodate brilliant proposals from Penn’s 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 was irresistible.
    Subsequent problems ranged from how many Philadelphia venues might be possible—we ended up with just one—to 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 Hiebert’s estimation, through adam gar chalik—the 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 Hiebert’s unerring eye for detail alone ensured that some food would remain for the tired performers.

Dr. Dilys Pegler Winegrad Gr’70 is director and curator of the Arthur Ross Gallery.

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Photography by Candace diCarlo

 

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