May 17th 2023 – Mar. 17th 2024

Dust and Silk.
Old routes – new perspectives along the Silk Roads.

Völkerkundemuseum vPST

Poster exhibition Staub & Seide
Poster exhibition Multiverse

The exhibition follows the traces of the Steppe and Silk Roads through time. Objects from the museum’s collections illustrate historically important epochs and aspects: archaeological grave goods from the Tang period point to one of the heyday periods of the Silk Road trade, while objects from the 13th/14th centuries from China and Iran point to the last peak phase of the trade routes at the time of the Mongol Empire. Textiles, everyday objects and photographs convey an impression of Central Asia at the time of the scientific rediscovery of the “Silk Roads” in the 19th/20th century.
Objects of different time levels are set in relation with narratives, interviews, video documentations and artistic works of the present: rapid developments meet slow narratives and thus illuminate connections of the “New Silk Road” and the “Steppe Corridor” with the historical routes. Works by contemporary artists play a special role in the exhibition.
The complementary exhibition multiverse (17.5.23 – 14.9.23) is dedicated to the artist Nomin Bold and the artist Baatarzorig Batjargal; both are among the most outstanding contemporary artistic personalities in Mongolia.
The exhibitions are organized in cooperation with the research project “Dispersed and Connected” (FWF/PEEK AR 394-G24) funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
Project management & curation: Maria-Katharina Lang (Institute for Social Anthropology, ÖAW).
Concept & Design: Maria-Katharina Lang & Christian Sturminger.

June 27th 2022 ​

Artistic–Scientific Collaboration between Mongolia and Austria

Venue: Gallery of Artists‘ Union (Ulaanbaatar)

„Time Link“, 2020 by Nomin Bold


11:00 – 11:10 Opening notes

11:10 – 11:30 „Dust & Silk“: Exhibition Concept, Designing and Displaying

Dr. Maria-Katharina Lang (OeAW), Mag. Christian Sturminger (project partner and exhibition designer, Vienna) (Exhibitions “Dust & Silk“ at Weltmuseum Wien and “Steppe & Silk Roads”at MARKK in Hamburg)

11:30 – 11:45 Mongol Zurag Programme at the Academy of Fine Art Prof. S. Ganzam (Department of Traditional Art / Academy of Fine Art)

11:45 – 12:00 Traditional Method and Technology of Mineral Colour Prof. G. Amarsanaa (Department of Traditional Art / Academy of Fine Art)

12:00 – 12:20 Visual Representation of Buddhist Concept (working title)

Dr. Lhagvademchig Jadamba (Department of Anthropology and Archaeology / National University of Mongolia)

12:20 – 12:45 Coffee Break

12:45 – 13:45 Workshop with artists on contemporary art in Mongolia and

artistic-scientific research (Baterdene Batchuluun, Nomin Bold, Khosbayar Narankhuu and Baatarzorig)

13:45 – 13:50 Closing remarks

14:00 Lunch for speakers

Cooperation partners Austrian Academy of Sciences, National University of Mongolia, Academy of Fine Art in Ulaanbaatar, Union of Mongolian Artists Project Funding Eurasia Pacific Uninet (EPU), FWF / PEEK–AR 394-G24

Dr. Tsetsentsolmon Baatarnaran (Department of Anthropology and Archaeology / National University of Mongolia) & Dr. Maria-Katharina Lang (Institute for Social Anthropology / Austrian Academy of Sciences)

May 17th 2022 / 6 PM

Dispersés et connectés. Collections muséales et art contemporain de la steppe et des Routes de la Soie

The auditorium of Musée Cernuschi

The presentation will give insight into the artistic-scientific research project Dispersed and Connected and the exhibition Silk & Dust at Weltmuseum Wien.
The project collects and explores narrations, images and imaginations, fragments and artistic expressions along old and new Steppe and Silk Roads, which link dispersed and connected biographies, artistic traditions, cultural monuments and memories. These fragments were joined in project exhibitions at the Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg and the Weltmuseum Wien.

Fast processes of transformation as a result of establishing new roads and railroads were juxtaposed to slow narrations and memories of individuals as well as historic artefacts and contemporary artistic works developed within the project. The artistic works include paintings, photographs, videos, film, songs and music, and drawings as different narration lines. Museum artefacts were links or starting points for these forms of narrations – which show the fragmented and yet interwoven sidelines and branches of existing and emerging roads.

Apr. 28th – 29th 2022

Symposium in context of the special exhibition Dust & Silk

Weltmuseum Wien
Heldenplatz, 1010 Wien

In cooperation with the research project Dispersed and Connected (FWF/PEEK AR 394-G24)
Project director & curator: Maria-Katharina Lang (Institute for Social Anthropology / Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Exhibition concept & design:
Maria-Katharina Lang & Christian Sturminger

April 28th–29th 2022
Weltmuseum Wien, WMW Forum
and in the special exhibition
Staub & Seide
Registration: register online
Entrance free (plus museum admission)

The symposium will bring together scientists, artists, museum specialists and project participants who will take a closer look at selected aspects and objects of the exhibition and, on the other hand, expand on them through their contributions. Topics include Mongolian art of the past and present, infrastructure projects in Central Asia, contemporary Uzbek art and music, selected collector biographies, object histories and a lecture by Michael Taussig on notebooks and drawings. The lectures (in English) will take place in the Weltmuseum Forum and in the exhibition.

Day 1 – Thursday, April 28th

Christina Franken (Commission for Archaeology of Non-European Cultures (KAAK) / Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), Bonn)

Finds and Knowledge between East and West: Some Archaeological Evidence of Intercultural Relations in Karabalgasun and Karakorum / Mongolia

Exchange and mobility have always been central components of nomadic ways of life, also in Central Asia in the Middle Ages. Many years of archaeological research on the nomadic urban settlements of Karabalgasun and Karakorum in Mongolia’s Orkhon Valley have yielded numerous indications of far-reaching relations and contacts between East and West. The mutual influence is evident both in the find material and in the design and architecture of the city complexes.

Barbara Pönighaus-Matuella (Weltmuseum Wien)

Lost in Admiration – Seeing the 14th Century “Black Gold” Chasuble from Regensburg through a Textile Conservator’s Eyes

Barbara Pönighaus-Matuella gives a short summary on the insights published so far, and tries an approach to the precious fabric’s original appearance and message with the help of reconstruction drawings and motif comparisons.

Tsetsentsolmon Baatarnaran & Maria-Katharina Lang (National University of Mongolia / Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Connected to be Dispersed: Road and Railway Projects in Mongolia

Roads and railway plans in Mongolia had been often connected to mining and transportation of mineral extracts. The railway history of the 20th century created positive imaginations modified by Soviet modernisation. New narratives and imaginations have arisen with road and rail infrastructures to be connected to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or the “New Silk Road”. Some of the roads planned on paper have been realised and connected to the international network of transport and trading routes. In addition to the impact on the natural environment caused by mining and building infrastructure, historically and at present, one mainly observes full freight wagons and trucks leaving Mongolia, dispersing resources and returning empty, and increasing the loads of goods traversing the country.

Emilia Róża Sułek (University of Fribourg)

The Rough Side of Silk. Connectivity and (Dis)Repair on Central Asia’s New Roads.

The idea of the (new) «Silk Road», traversing the Central Asian steppes, mountains and deserts, captures the imagination and creates a link with a mythical golden age of peaceful, commercial ties between East and West. Just as the (old) Silk Road was the invention of a man, in this case a German geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen, so too the new roads being built under Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are largely a rhetorical device and (self)marketing instrument used by Chinese government agencies. The BRI is narrated as a peace-bringer, development tool and wealth generator. It is supposed to improve connectivity, gender equality and enhance mutual understanding. But can a road live up to such ambitious aims? While the media coverage focus on construction-related expenditure, kilometres of roads (built or only planned) and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, this presentation shows some phenomena that are only visible after the camera lights go out: the more down-to-earth side of these new roads and their mundane effects on the ground.

Tsetsentsolmon Baatarnaran & Maria-Katharina Lang (National University of Mongolia / Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Contemporary Mongolian Art & Mongol Zurag (Mongolian Painting)

The Mongolian painting style, Mongol Zurag, used and newly reinterpreted by contemporary artists, carries elements of Buddhist thangka painting. As a specific style it was constructed and coined in the mid-20th century during communist rule in Mongolia. Despite the political repressions against Buddhism and Buddhist art in Mongolia, as part of Mongol Zurag techniques of thangka painting continued to be taught even though in an officially secular Soviet-defined setting at the School of Fine Arts in Ulaanbaatar. In this presentation we trace the formation and transformation of this art style which is flourishing today in new ways and reinterpretations in the oeuvres of contemporary artists such as Nomin Bold and Khosbayar Narankhuu, whose paintings are exhibited in the exhibition Dust & Silk.

Nomin Bold (Ulaanbaatar)

Artist Talk

The artist Nomin Bold will talk about her painting Time Link and her artistic work in the exhibition Dust & Silk.

Daniele Ventola (Naples)

Windtraveller Travelogue

The social anthropologist Daniele Ventola spent 600 days walking the “Silk Road”, seeing the Caucasus and Central Asia by foot. The 7500 km walk was a cultural project, aimed at demonstrating the futility of borders and the universal nature of the human being. Daniele Ventola will talk about his project in the exhibition Dust & Silk.

Michael T. Taussig (Columbia University, New York)

Logbooks of the Imagination: Towards a New Silk Road

Imagine I am an explorer in far-off lands of fable and mystery being harnessed for trade and science. Why am I doing this? What am I running from? Or to? To whom am I writing and drawing when I set down my explorations of the unknown in my notebooks and diaries? Am I unsettling my conventions or reinforcing them with this encounter with Otherness and Strangeness? Is my very body opening? Or closing? Let me consult my diaries and notebooks and their drawings to answer these questions (Michael Taussig)

Day 2 – Thursday, April 29th

Margareta Pavaloi (Völkerkundemuseum VPST, Heidelberg)

Victor Goldschmidt – The Collection of a Scholar

Some of the Chinese objects on show in the exhibition “Dust & Silk” are part of the ethnographic collections brought together by Victor Goldschmidt for the von Portheim Foundation of Science and the Arts, which he had established in 1919. The presentation deals briefly with the specific aims and scientific questions which guided Goldschmidt’s interest in objects. Both are of central importance for Goldschmidt’s concept of collecting and thus for the history of objects in the collections of the foundation’s Ethnographic Museum.

Gabriele Anderl (Wien)

Provenance Unknown: The East Asian Collection of Anton and Walter Exner

Anton Exner was the best-known Viennese art dealer specialising in artefacts from East Asia during the interwar period. He and his son Walter Exner also built up the most important Austrian private collection of items from this region. The majority of the collection finally ended up in two Viennese museums: the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) and the Weltmuseum Wien. These collections were the subject of provenance research under the Austrian Art Restitution Act. The aim was to identify objects that had possibly been seized during or as a result of Nazi rule. It is thought that the majority of the collection was acquired during journeys by Anton and Walter Exner to Asia and that only a smaller part came from acquisitions in Western countries. But precisely this smaller part would have been of particular interest, as problematic acquisitions during the Nazi era could not be ruled out, especially because Anton and Walter Exner had been fanatical Nazis. Conversely, all the objects that they had provably and directly acquired in Asia could be classified as “unobjectionable” in the meaning of the Art Restitution Act. But this seemingly simple scheme proved to be of little help in practice, because there is not a single object with a clear indication of provenance. Moreover, this approach would hardly have yielded any insights with regard to the circumstances under which the Exners acquired these artefacts in Asia. These questions are gaining in importance, however, in the growing debate on colonial looted property in public collections.

Niklas Leverenz (Hamburg)

Fragments of the Painting The Battle of Qurman of 1760

In three wars between 1755 and 1760, Chinese troops were able to subdue a territory in Central Asia that included large areas of what is now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–95) glorified his conquests of the north-western borders of Qing dynasty (1644–1911), a region in Europe most frequently called East Turkestan, with various works of arts.
In 1760, the Qianlong emperor ordered the creation of 16 large-scale paintings (each about 8 × 4 metres) to glorify his victories. Preparation had already begun during the campaigns, when artists were sent to the front to make sketches of key events. The 16 battle paintings were created collaboratively by court artists and European missionary artists. Smaller versions of these paintings were sent to Paris in 1765 to have them engraved in copper.
Only three fragments of the 16 paintings have survived, all of them of the painting The Battle of Qurman, which took place on February 3rd 1759, close to the city of Yarkand (at the western end of the Tarim basin).

Bettina Zorn (Weltmuseum Wien)

The Battle Copper Engravings in the Weltmuseum Wien’s Collection and their Historical Embeddedness

Over time more and more details are becoming known about historical and technical facts concerning the battle engravings dating to the Qianlong period (1736–1796), so that we are able to reconstruct the context. Nevertheless, questions about the provenance of the collection and technical details pose a challenge. The paper aims to trace what is known so far.

Jana C. Reimer (Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK), Hamburg)

What we know and what we don’t know: circumstantial information on a fragmented collection and its fragmentary history

The MARKK holds two collections documenting nomadic life in the Semipalatinsk region, Kazakhstan, in the late 19th century. In 1906, the Hamburg ethnological dealer J.F.G. Umlauff sold an extensively furnished yurt to the museum as a display object, and in 1908 a photo collection by the St. Petersburg ethnographer Samuil Dudin is registered. There is no connection in regard to their exact origin and their acquisition, but a coincidental contextual connection arises within the collection. Within the museum’s holdings, both collections document an early period of nomadic material culture in Central Asia.

Sophia Abplanalp (Vienna)

Travelling Tiles – Ilkhanid Lustre Tiles from the Shrine of the Imamzada Yahya in Varamin

From the middle of the 19th century European travellers made their way to Iran for different reasons, including the establishment of trading relations, research purposes or diplomatic missions. Parallel to this, Europeans started developing an interest in historic sites in Iran that were thought to be of archaeological significance, such as the ruins of Samarra or Ray. Accordingly, written accounts on medieval Iranian lustre ceramics started to appear in European travelogues. Since then, lustre tiles have been admired in the West for their distinctive aesthetics, which they owe to their lustre glaze. The craze for Iranian lustre ware began to emerge during the second half of the 19th century and peaked around the turn of the century, creating a high demand for these objects. The Western art market and European collections of Islamic art were stocking up on Iranian lustreware. Hence hundreds of lustre tiles were removed from the walls of medieval religious buildings in Iran, including mosques and shrines. As a result, nowadays lustre tiles from Ilkhanid Iran are dispersed all over the world and can be found in every major museum collection of Islamic art, including the MAK and Weltmuseum in Vienna. The diverse trading routes of medieval lustre tiles should be exemplified by the example of the shrine of the Imamzada Yahya in Veramin, which was plundered of its lustre tiles between the 1880s and 1930s.

Tobias Mörike (Weltmuseum Wien)

Layered Vision: Central Asian Architectural Fragments in European Collections

Mosques, shrines and mausoleums in Central Asia underwent significant transformations from the end of the 19th century. Archaeologists and travellers broke up individual tiles and ceramic fragments, transferred them to Europe and exhibited them there. Art historians produced visual documentation to catalogue and identify buildings while architects and conservators renovated the architectural sites in Samarqand and Bukhara. The talk aims at combining the layers of intervention and documentation for producing a history of knowledge and representation by elaborating on European conceptions of the Silk Road as the dislocation and appropriation of Central Asia’s pasts.

Barbara Karl (Bern, Vienna)

Exchanges of Taste: Textiles and Concepts of Power on the Maritime “Silk Road” c. 1600 – The Spanish Cape

In addition to the various Silk Roads trading luxuries and everyday goods within the Eurasian continent, the maritime trade routes crossing the Indian Ocean and beyond have been important since antiquity. This paper focuses on the textile trade between India and the Iberian Peninsula c. 1600. The earliest gifts and loot obtained by the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean included embroidered textiles from Bengal. What started out as high level diplomatic gift and desirable booty turned into a sought-after trade item of everyday elite use in the Portuguese colonies. By the mid-16th century, Bengal silk embroideries had become exclusive exotic souvenirs to Europe, as the presence of these textiles in late 16th century aristocratic inventories in different parts of Europe attest. They entered not only the households of the Portuguese upper class but also played a part in the network of dynastic gift-giving and ended up in the famous collections of the Habsburg and Medici princes. We take a particular look at a piece of costume produced in Bengal for the Iberian market, the Spanish cape.

Alexey Ulko (Tashkent, Uzbekistan)

Censorship in Central Asian Contemporary Art in a Time of Hybrid War

The Central Asian contemporary art scene has inherited different practices of censorship from the Soviet Union as well as from more conservative social groups on both sides of the political spectrum. In this paper, I will discuss a range of recent examples of censorship specific to different cultural and national contexts in order to highlight the complex relations between the artist and society. I will interpret these relations in the context of the current hybrid war being waged by many different actors globally as well as locally.

Kerstin Klenke (Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Sonic Statecrafting: The Near, the Far and the Impossible in Uzbekistani Estrada

This talk is devoted to the intersection between popular music and state politics in Uzbekistan. I look at the remarkable era from 2001 onwards, when the Uzbekistani government promoted a rather unlikely candidate to the prominent position of state sound: estrada, a genre of popular music and a musical relic of socialism. Under president Islom Karimov, various state institutions were entrusted with estrada’s development and control, and the creation of milliy estrada – national estrada – as sonic incarnation of national independence ideology was put high on the agenda of government policies. But how could and should Uzbekistani estrada be made national, considering its internationalist Soviet legacy? Exploring this question, I will also scrutinize the conventional celebratory rhetoric of newly dissolved borders, limitless flows and unleashed creativity in the post-Soviet cultural realm – asking, whether the world did not actually become a smaller place for Uzbekistani estrada after independence.

December 16th 2021 – May 3rd 2022

Dust & Silk

Exhibition at Weltmuseum Wien
Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna

The exhibition Dust & Silk. Steppe and Silk Roads invites visitors to a multi-layered search for traces through history and the present and asks about the connections of the historical routes with the “New Silk Road”.
Neither today nor in the past does it concern only one road or silk as the singular good. Rather, it was and is a loose, changing network of routes by land and sea that connects China with Europe and other parts of the world.

Poster by Johannes Heuer © project Dispersed & Connected

The term “Silk Road” was coined by German geographer and cartographer Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877. Not only silk but also tea, gold, jade, china and horses were transported on paths through the steppe and deserts between Asia and Europe. In addition, also weapons, musical instruments, Golden Peaches, “wild apples” and spices as well as ideas, religions, art, dreams, knowledge, diseases, conflicts and dust were in motion.
Today, it is also about contact, movement and transport, albeit with other speeds and wares. Large-scale infrastructure projects are shaping the regions of the steppe and silk roads, bringing not only dust but also raw materials to the surface. In Europe, China’s planned, global infrastructure network, the “Belt & Road Initiative”, is often called the “New Silk Road”.
The exhibition presents its objects to track these movements and relationships between Asia and Europe, and to establish new connections between various topics and places. Against this backdrop, the exhibits also reflect the interests of the travellers who brought them to Europe.
The exhibition juxtaposes more than 200 historical objects, artworks and photographic recordings with contemporary artistic positions and current research documents. The exhibits include outstanding collection pieces from the Weltmuseum Wien, numerous loans from national and international museums and collections, and the works of contemporary artists.


Exhibition concept & design
Maria-Katharina Lang & Christian Sturminger

Floor map, table map & film montage

Johannes Heuer

Artistic contributions
Umida Akhmedova, Baterdene Batchuluun, Nomin Bold, Johannes Heuer, Dilyara Kaipova, Paul Kolling, Khosbayar Narankhuu, Tatia Skhirtladze, Marylise Vigneau, Jack Wolf

Exhibition videos
Maria-Katharina Lang & Christian Sturminger

December 11th 2020 – November 7th 2021

Silk and Steppe Roads

Exhibition at MARKK Museum am Rothenbaum
Rothenbaumchaussee 64, 20148 Hamburg

Photo: P.Schimweg / MARKK
February 13-14th, 2020

Fieldwork notebooks, maps, drawings and exhibitions

Workshop IV with Prof. Michael Taussig (Columbia University)

Photo: Maria Katharina Lang