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Between Turkestan and Tibet: the Salars


On July 19, 2010 Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the RAS held the opening of the exhibition titled "Between Turkestan and Tibet: the Salars". The Museum preserves one of the greatest ethnographic collections brought from Xinjiang and Qinghai (the PRC). It represents cultural and ethnical diversity of Chinese Turkestan and the history of its study in Russia. The gathering of this collection is closely linked to the activity of the legendary Russian Committee of Central Asian Studies and to the names of such prominent scholars and travellers as Nikolai M. Przhevalsky, Vsevolod I. Roborovsky, Sergey E. Malov, Edham R. Tenishev and many others.

In August of 2007 in Beijing within the framework of the Year of China in Russian Federation a treaty about scientific partnership between Saint-Petersburg Kunstkamera and the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Academy of Social Sciences of the PRC was concluded. One year later in line with this agreement a historical-ethnographic expedition of the MAE RAS "The Muslims of Chinese Turkestan (Uyghurs of Xinjiang, Salars of Qinghai)" took place on the territory of the Qinghai province and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the PRC.

The expedition visited a series of prominent centres along the Chinese part of the Great Silk Road. Also data on history and modern-day situation of Islam and Islamic-Buddhist cultural and interreligious interaction in Chinese Turkestan and the Qinghai province was intensively collected.

The exhibition we present to your attention is a result of that very expedition and the study of the related museum collections. The exhibition is an attempt to see the world of inhabitants of Chinese Turkestan and the pre-Tibetan area, the world of everyday men and women who live in towns and villages of this country. We are given images and symbols of their traditional culture, and first of all the culture of the Salars - a small ethnic group of the Oghuz, South Turkic origin (about 110 thousand people), the majority of which lives in the south-eastern part of Qinghai close to the heads of three great Asian rivers - Huanghe, Yangtze and Mekong. The Salars sacredly believe that in the uneasy 14th century two ancestor brothers Akhman and Qaraman have moved there from Samarqand and brought here the sacred relic - the manuscript of the Holy Qur'an which is acknowledged as the oldest in China. Their culture and way of life is a result of a centuries-old interaction with the ancient Chinese culture and the cultures of the numerous peoples practicing Buddhism and Islam

A special feature of the project is its comprehensiveness, when simultaneously items of traditional culture are displayed and photographs and videos are shown, graphically illustrating their use in real life. The exhibition space thus gains a third dimension, and the viewer has the impression of being present, and gets a feeling of actuality in the presentation of the cultural and scholarly information.

The exhibition format was specifically developed for the projects of the series "The Expeditions Are Not Over". These exhibitions not only resemble the famous scholarly traditions and national expedition projects of the 18th-19th centuries, thanks to which one of the most important ethnographic collections in the world was collected at MAE. The expeditions continue. Museum scholars go on new journeys every year, and bring back new collections and interesting scholarly materials.

The exhibition, which tells not only of a small Muslim nation living in China, but also of the history of our museum, its collections and collectors and of indissoluble ties of its history with Oriental studies in Russia, was organized in cooperation with the State Hermitage Museum and the State Museum of Oriental Art (Moscow). Exhibition organizers are grateful to the "Bright world, Ltd" for support of the exhibition project.

Author and the Head of the project - Efim Rezvan
Photo project - Tatyana Fedorova
Video project - Yuriy Krylov
Design - Tatyana Bogdanova

At the exhibition opening (photographs by Polina Matveeva, Anton Uspenskiy, Igor Alimov)


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