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S R S (Silk Road Songbook)

Songs are channels through which we can collectively mourn, remember, persist, protest, and declare. Songs have the capacity to turn sorrow and outrage into optimism - the kind of optimism that pushes people to persist, protest and declare in the first place. But where there is limited freedom of expression, how can creative resiliency thrive?

These ideas have steered SRS (Silk Road Songbook)  since its inception several years ago. SRS is a socially charged, interdisciplinary art project that integrates songs with landscapes. It is intended to facilitate the creation of songs that voice local concerns about land, sovereignty, and cultural identity. For the project locations, we are re-tracing one of the major arteries of the ancient Eurasian trade routes between Istanbul (Constantinople, western terminus from the 4th century on), West and Central Asia, and Xi’an (Chang’an, eastern terminus and China’s imperial capital). These places are part of the misleadingly and reductively named “Silk Road”; we deliberately use this term for our project title in order to challenge its cliché associations with Orientalist exoticism and fantasy tourism. Arzu is from the western end of the artery; Millie's family is from the eastern end. Through the making of SRS, we intend to build a creative network that connects disparate project participants and places along the “Silk Road,” interlinking them through sound and image, and forming a creative, resilient network that overlays ancient, current and near future networks of commerce and politics.

The SRS songs will be generated in collaboration with area musicians in communities along the project route, communities largely under the radar in terms of global attention. Due to the exigencies of exile, along with the current climate of anti-immigration, anti-refugee rhetoric, we will also work with diaspora originally from “Silk Road” regions now living elsewhere, disinherited from their homelands. When displaced physically, how do we conceive of land as a psychological state? Conveying participants’ voices establishes authorship for the relatively voiceless. These will be songs of empowerment, channels for human agency. For each place, the voices will be the dynamic driving force, but the land will be the visual and conceptual anchor. The visual history of land becomes invisible over time - competing occupiers most likely try to erase history, or nature reclaims territory. Conveying the presence of history at each location is crucially linked to ongoing battles over land: who has a right to live on it, occupy it, and what can be bled from it. The term landscape inherently suggests aestheticization. We will use song to tap into this tension between land and landscape. Song, a ready and infectious vehicle for those who are rarely heard, can present a challenge to the dominant power. Singing builds inspiration and internal strength; singing together builds collective joy, defiance and fortitude.

We would like to thank:

• Istanbul Institute of Design - OzU

• Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University

Substantial Motion Research Network

• Performance Research Workshop, Humanities Institute, University at Buffalo 

• O k'inādās Artist Residency, University of British Columbia Okanagan


Alexey Ulko, Asli Akinci Alpert, Özlem Özkal, Wang Mengmeng, Saeed Ensafi, Sahar Bardaie, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, James Millward, Theodore Levin

Thibault de Ruyter, Kristin Stapleton, Fan Eric Feng, Chen Anying, Ashot Danielyan, Wang Jing Jing, Wang Hui , Sun Xin, Amalia Rubin, Massanov Madjer, Zilola Saidova, Shavkat Boltaev, Alexander Djumaev, Ali Burak Erkan, Yasmeen Siddiqui 

Project funded by:

The American Turkish Society

Ontario Arts Council


Canada Council for the Arts

University at Buffalo

UUP Professional Development Award

San Diego State University

The University Grants Program (UGP)

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