Weaving new life into Dunhuang's ancient artwork

Wu Huixin
The Dunhuang Academy cooperated with the China National Silk Museum to restore and conduct research on unearthed silk antiques.
Wu Huixin

Dunhuang in Gansu Province was a transportation hub along the Silk Road that thrived thanks to the booming silk trade and Buddhism. It is an oasis and a religious and cultural crossroad of the ancient route.

The Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring some of the finest examples of Buddhist art, was a popular destination for devout believers at the time.

Along with renowned murals, a number of silk paintings and textiles were buried in the grottoes throughout history. These fragile textiles were gradually brought to light in recent decades but required professional restoration.

This month, the Dunhuang Academy signed an agreement with the China National Silk Museum, the nation’s largest silk history research organization, to participate in the restoration process and conduct research on unearthed silk antiques.

Weaving new life into Dunhuangs ancient artwork
China National Silk Museum / Ti Gong

Zhao Shengliang (left), curator of the Dunhuang Academy, and Zhao Feng, curator of the China National Silk Museum, hold a silk scarf designed by Chang Shana who was inspired by patterns from the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes. 

In 2014, the Silk Road’s Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor section became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since then, the silk museum has become the hub of cultural exchanges for museums and organizations along the ancient route. It has assembled a group of professionals who excel at restoring badly decayed textiles.

Restorers who studied design and weaving technologies of the ancient time reproduced the original designs, emulating stitching techniques and embroidery as closely as possible.

Moreover, an online digital museum will be created under the partnership of the two organizations, using modern technology to analyze the fiber structures and chromatogram of ancient silk products. Results will be uploaded to the digital museum.

Since many Dunhuang antiques were lost overseas, the organizations will collaborate with academies and museums in other countries, digitizing the lost antiques for the online museum.

An exhibition featuring Dunhuang silk is expected to take place this year.

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