SRS (Silk Road Songbook) is an audio-video project that weaves songs of resistance into the land, broadcasting women’s distinct, unruly voices on an ancient Eurasian migration route. These diverse voices emerge from Istanbul, Tehran, Tashkent, Bishkek, Xi’an and places in between, generating songs that are simultaneously grounding and transporting, familiar yet unknowable. The songs defy borders and embrace life.
By conveying the complex stories emerging from each place and person who is working with us, we challenge Orientalist exoticism, cultural tourism, and censorship, disrupting the grand, tidy narrative of the popular perception of “Silk Road.” It is our collaborators in these places who control the selection of landscapes, musical genres, and lyrical content. For each place, women’s voices are the dynamic driving force; the land is the visual anchor.
We harnessed our own respective ancestries and migration stories to bookend the project route, forming an itinerary that is at once historically and personally significant. We are building a network of participants to work collaboratively across borders, amplifying their ideas about land and song. The history of land becomes invisible over time as competing occupiers erase history. Marking 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. Songs enable us to mourn, remember, dissent, and declare, turning sorrow and outrage into hope, fortitude, and joy. Songs become a ready vehicle for voices that are not usually heard. Singing builds fortitude; singing together builds collective joy and defiance. These are songs of empowerment, channels for human agency.
Sound is underrated in ocularcentric cultures; herein lies its potency as an interventionist tool. Cultural historian Michael Denning states: “The decolonization of the ear made possible the decolonization of the territory.” SRS is also informed by the work of scholars such as Valerie Hansen and Peter Frankopan: the common conception of the “Silk Road” as a reductive historic narrative driven by the West is challenged by the argument that it was an abundantly more complex network of land and sea routes with multi-directional cross-cultural exchanges, much of it taking place between Asian cultures, and mainly propelled by migrants and refugees.
From Fall 2017 to Winter 2018, we made research trips to Xi’an, Dunhuang, Hami, Urumqi, Kashgar, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Tehran, Kashan, Abyaneh, Isfahan, Ankara, Bursa, Istanbul; since 2016, we have conducted numerous research workshops (in Turkey, Uzbekistan, China, Canada, and the U.S.) related to the project. We have completed the video and audio recordings for the 5 SRS locations, mounted 2 work-in-progress exhibitions in Xi’an and Vancouver (here is a review of one of the exhibitions), and are now in post-production. As part of the larger multi-media SRS project, we are also developing a publication with Minerva Projects. This book will contain lyrics and song notes, research and travel records, and the stories of collaborators. We will incorporate visual experiments in the form of contemporary conceptual scoring practices and exploratory writing that grapples with nostalgia, memory and distance in the complex processes of othering our own.
Research, development and production for SRS (Silk Road Songbook) have been supported by numerous organizations and individuals, listed below.
In addition to the funding organizations whose logos are listed below, we would like to thank the following:
• Humanities Institute, College of Arts and Sciences, University at Buffalo
• Office of International Education, University at Buffalo
• Department of Art, University at Buffalo
• United University Professions, Buffalo Center Chapter
• Istanbul Institute of Design - OzU
• Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University
• Substantial Motion Research Network
• O k'inadas Artist Residency, University of British Columbia Okanagan
• International Institute for Central Asian Studies
Morteza Namvar, Ramil Niyazov, Asli Akinci Alpert, Özlem Özkal, Ali Burak Erkan, Ipek Yeginsu, Saeed Ensafi, Sahar Bardaie, Pantea Karimi, Somayeh Khakshoor, Farshid Kazemi, Hamin Honari, Mahmoud Nuri, Zilola Saidova, Shavkat Boltaev, Alexander (Sasha) Djumaev, Dmitriy Kostushkin, Saodat G’ulomova, Sadriddin Gulov, Soldan Kurbanov, Nishondjon Atamuradov, Madjer Massanov, Anying Chen, Jingjing Wang, Hui Wang, Sun Xin, Zhi Xiang Wang, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Laura Mark, Azadeh Emadi, Thibault de Ruyter, James Millward, Theodore Levin, Franck Bauchard, Kristin Stapleton, Amalia Rubin, Minglu Gao, Ou Ning, Eric Fan Feng, Malinna Li, Carl Lee, Sangjun Yoo