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Silk Road

For many, the history of the Silk Road sounds as familiar as a household tale. Originating at Xi’an on the east, the road went westward through countless deserts and wastelands, conquered towering mountains and dived into unfathomed valleys, connecting numerous countries in Asia, Europe and Africa until it reached what is Alexandria of Egypt today. As silk was one of the most valued commodities transported along this road when trading activities began some two thousand years ago, this term “Silk Road” was coined by Ferdinand von Richthofen, a German geographer, in 1877. The Silk Road is in the hands of artist as much as beauty is in the eye of its beholder. Liu Shiming’s personal style is distinctively manifested by his art, brimming with power in simplicity and rusticity. The handcrafted lines on the clay surface resemble the imprints of Mother Nature carved throughout centuries, recapturing the wear and tear of time with ultimate simplicity. The sculpture is a combination of merely two elements: a camel and a Buddha, representing the Silk Road in his conception. Camels used to be the primary means of transport on this legendary thoroughfare that stretched over 7,000 km, which would be next to impossible without these animals inured to arduous journeys and sandstorms with an amazing indifference to hunger or thirst. Indeed, these beasts of burden deserved much gratitude for bringing otherwise inaccessible novices from exotic lands when wheels and deliverymen did not yet exist and continents were only fathomed by foot. Yet the Silk Road was more than a network of trading posts and markets across Asia, Europe and Africa; it was where communions of ancient civilizations occurred. A representative personage remarkable for his journeys of cultural exchange in ancient China was Xuanzang, a Buddhist priest during the Tang Dynasty. His 17-year pilgrimage started in 629 AD from Chang’an, from where his epochal journeys covering 50,000 li and over 100 countries along the Silk Road, until he finally reached India. His writings portrayed political and religious climates as well as social mores of multiple countries and remain valuable even today for curious minds probing into the history and geographies of the Middle Ages. Particularly in China, the name of Xuanzang has become an embodiment of invincible courage and resilience for spiritual devotion. In the keen eyes of Liu Shiming, a camel and a Buddha were symbols that crystallized the profound history of the Silk Road where commodities were traded and cultures were enriched through exchange and mutual learning. Yet the connotation of this sculpture extended beyond history itself. “My primary objective is an expression of spirituality, for what is spiritual is about life”, wrote Liu Shiming in his diaries. A road becomes immortal not for its own sake, but for the sentient beings waging their journeys from it, and the sculpture is all about them. Mortal beings as they were, their spiritual illumination never faded away. Gone are the days when travelers laboriously trudged all the way through the Silk Road, as jet planes have shortened the arduous journey to a ten-something hours’ flight. Yet every generation has its own pilgrimage, and every mortal life is an expedition into the unknown. What would you do with your pilgrimage? Have you found your spirituality while plodding along? Time elapses, geographies transform, physicality metamorphoses, yet spirituality transcends it all, with lasting perpetuity like the starry firmament on high, indiscriminately guiding every traveler on their journey. Creator of this sculpture as he did, Liu Shiming never actually had the chance to set foot on the Silk Road. Due to leg impairment from childhood, mobility had been a challenge all his life and he mostly relied on a mini-sized tricycle where his crutches were kept. Constrained by his handicap on his journeys - both in physical and metaphorical senses - Liu nonetheless reconciled with himself as he encountered sculpture which gave him free rein in the world of art, in a spiritual realm. Physical constraints brought him closer to the souls trekking through the Silk Road, with a genuine awareness that their long pilgrimages were as splendid as they were herculean. Liu Shiming was quoted as saying when he was alive “I want my life to be present in all my works, so that after my death, my friends could still dialogue with them in silence simply by casting their eyes on my art. These wordless dialogues would content me more than anything else.” Whatever you see and whatever you hear when gazing upon this sculpture is nothing less than a dialogue exclusively between you and him.

Silk Road

Liu Shiming







American University in Cairo (AUC)


February 26, 2023​


On February 26, 2023, the Liu Shiming Art Foundation announced the donation of a sculpture called “Silk Road” by the renowned Chinese sculptor, Liu Shiming, to The American University in Cairo (AUC) as a physical symbol of the new relationship. The donation marks a significant moment in cultural exchange through art and reflects the spirit of Liu Shiming's artistic vision.

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