The exhibition is placed throughout the Granary Square area of King’s Cross in London. Here the viewer is encouraged to take a journey across desert, mountain, and sea. Each of these aspects, together with the people who live within these areas, features in the new open-air exhibition.
Each image has been taken by photographer Christopher Wilton-Steer, who travelled along the historic trade route that was once known as The Silk Road during the course of 2019 (a distance tolling some 40,000 kilometers). Th exhibition is supported by the presented by the Aga Khan Foundation (which provides educational resources in relation to Muslim civilizations).
The Silk Road refers to an ancient trade route (or rather a series of interlinked networks), connecting the Western world with the Middle East and Asia. The route was the major conduit for trade for much of the Roman Empire and China. Following the fall of these empires, the route continued into medieval Europe, connecting various European kingdoms to China.
The importance of the ancient Silk Road goes beyond mercantilism. The route was also of cultural, political, and religious importance, in terms of interactions between peoples.
While the Silk Road simmered a hot bed of ideas, culture, inventions, and rare products, and enabled these to spread across much of the settled world, the area was also dominated by different imperialist powers at different stages of its history.
The main routes of the Silk Road have been subdivided by historians as:
The phrasing of the route as the ‘Silk Road’ dates back to the Han dynasty in China, with reference to the trade in silk, which was, for several centuries, the most lucrative commodity.
Today, parts of the Silk Road (or what is more often referred to as the ‘New Silk Road’) continue to be trading hubs and transportation channels. Trading occurs on land and on the maritime branch. However, the modern era had not returned Afro-Eurasia and the global system to the open trade of the Silk Road era to anything like it was before.
The new exhibition celebrates the different countries, and regions, peoples, cultures and beliefs, of today that made up the Silk Road routes. These are displayed as larger, colorful, sometimes panoramic pictures, accompanied by descriptions of the photograph and what it is intended to represent. There is also additional content, such as videos and music, accessible via QR codes displayed on each panel.
What is most interesting, when viewing the photographs, is considering which historical practices, rituals and customs are living on today.
The exhibition is made up of 24 art benches and these are on display in Granary Square, London, U.K., from 8 April to 16 June 2021. The exhibition is free.