Ancient Chinese Murals Come to Liverpool

Liv.History was present for what has to be one of the most important events in the city’s cultural calendar: the world exclusive exhibition of 1700-year-old grotto murals by Yang Xiaodong at the View Two gallery. During the Qin era in Northwest China Buddhist monks travelling along the silk routes into central Asia developed a complex of sacred grottoes at Maijishan and now, almost two thousand years after their conception, Chinese artist Yang Xiaodong and his team are faithfully copying down the 1000 square metres of incredible artwork to make sure they are never lost: the site is at risk from destruction by earthquakes.

Luckily for Liverpool, a contact of the artist based in the city managed to organise a one-off exhibition at local gallery View Two on Mathew Street – the works have never left China and are not scheduled to be exhibited internationally again. The artist was present to talk to Liv.History about the work: spanning two floors of the gallery and accompanied by traditional Chinese music and dancing. The history of Maijishan is as intricate as the murals: a travel nexus influenced by different Asian cultures, the caves were originally used as ancestral shrines before the arrival of Buddhism in China. In the fifth century a small monastic community of a few hundred monks occupied Maijishan but was either forcibly dispersed by the Northern Wei dynasty in the mid 400s or just steadily declined over time.

8th Century Chinese poet Tu Fu wrote ‘Mountain Temples’ after visiting Maijishan

“There are few monks left in these remote shrines,

And in the wilderness the narrow paths are high.

The musk deer sleep among the stones and bamboo,

The cockatoos peck at the golden peaches.

Streams trickle down among the paths;

Across the overhanging cliff the cells are ranged,

Their tiered chambers reaching to the very peak;

And for a 100 li one can make out the smallest thing”

Yang’s nickname? “Pilgrim of the ancient wall paintings”

Felix Goodbody


See the performance here…


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