London to Dunhuang: Traditional Skills on the Silk Road

Our team in Dunhuang, China

In August, the School participated in “From London to Dunhuang: Traditional Skills on the Silk Road 2019 International Forum.” Programme Manager Lisa DeLong & four alumni with practical expertise in & connections to the cultures which influenced the imagery of the Dunhuang murals travelled to Dunhuang.

The team brought together knowledge of mural painting (Dr Adrian Iurco), traditional pigments (Dr David Cranswick), and Hindu and Buddhist iconography (Dr Desmond Lazaro and Dr Renuka Gurung).

The conference included a fascinating mix of practical demonstrations, presentations showing the results of research, theoretical and philosophical discussions, and dynamic conversations about technique and process in the caves themselves.

Unprecedented access to the caves was granted to the team. Several not open to the public were opened up allowing the team to climb the scaffolding and get a proper look at details of brushwork as well as the effects of time, chemical change, and general deterioration. This special access both answered and raised questions about materials and techniques. Desmond Lazaro wrote, “With the ravages of time, the secrets of the murals begin to surface within the decaying walls, flaking paint or even simple brush strokes. They reveal much of the artists’ original intent; the difficulty is knowing what to decipher, to spot the subtle changes in colour, tone, texture and technique.”

On this visit, the team had the privilege of meeting the former Director of the Dunhuang Research Academy Fan Jinshi, who has devoted over 50 years of her life to the study of the Dunhuang caves. Upon meeting the team, she commented how Dunhuang has always brought people of different cultures together.

Some very interesting research avenues have emerged for the next stage of the collaboration. One intriguing possibility is the development and publication of a general model for restorations projects which integrates the contributions of practicing artists into the conservation process.

The School extends its gratitude to the Dunhuang Research Academy for hosting the conference and to Diana Kuan for sponsoring the team.