Monday, 1 April 2013

Deke Erh's fresh take on 'Burglar of Dunhuang'

MARC Aurel Stein (1862-1943), a Hungarian-British archeologist, is infamous in China as the "burglar of Dunhuang."
Stein removed - plundered - a trove of artifacts and precious documents from a secret library cell in the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas that he stumbled upon in 1907. He took the Diamond Sutra, believed to be the world's oldest printed text dating from AD 868. He made several expeditions to Dunhuang in today's Gansu Province and other sites on the Silk Road.
Many of the treasures are in the British Museum, the British Library and museums in India.

Deke Erh, a Shanghai native and one of the nation's most distinguished photographers and travelers, has opened an exhibition titled "A dialogue with Stein - a visual documentation exhibition of the Silk Road after a century" at the new Deke Erh Art Center on Shilong Road.

The exhibition features photos that Erh took of the same spots Stein photographed, standing where Stein would have stood. It also features photos of Stein's own photos.

Influenced by Sven Hedin's 1898 work "Through Asia," Stein made four major expeditions to Central Asia in 1900, 1906-1908, 1913-1916 and 1930. 
Stein's greatest discovery was made at the Mogao Caves, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, near Dunhuang in China in 1907. 
It was there that he discovered the Diamond Sutra, along with 40,000 other scrolls. 
He was able to remove them by gradually winning the confidence and bribing the Taoist caretaker of the Mogao Caves. 

He also acquired 25 cases of manuscripts in many languages and four cases of paintings, including silk paintings and textiles and various relics. 
Thus, Stein - one of a series of foreigners who raced to uncover China's Buddhist treasures - is condemned to this day for removing the nation's priceless patrimony and causing serious damage.

Foreign archeologists, robbers and thieves from China and Central Asia scoured the region, including other caves in what is today the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and looted grottoes, even cutting out segments of frescoes, crating them and sending them to European museums.

"That was what I had learned from books about the Mogao Caves," says Zhang Jun, a visitor to the exhibit in his 40s. "But I read more about Stein because of this exhibition. As an archeologist, he trudged to remote areas in Central Asia with great courage, and his findings are a contribution to the Eastern civilization."
"He is the key figure in the history of Dunhuang studies, of course, surrounded by great controversy," Erh said.

Since 2000, Erh followed in Stein's footsteps to capture the visual record of the Silk Road a century later. Every year, Erh spent months following the route Stein described in his books.
"I went to Hungarian Library to read all the files on Stein for a better understanding of the man," Erh says. 

Now Erh plans a new project, driving nearly 18,000 kilometers from China to Central Asia and Europe to record the Silk Road. The journey will cover around 10 countries and take three months, he said.

Date: Through March 31, 10am-5pm (closed Saturday and Sunday)

Address: 27, Lane 345, Shilong Rd
Tel: 6415-0675

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