Graving of New Dunhuang Grottos along Silk Road

Silence lasting for six centuries has been broken in Dunhuang, the location of many ancient grottos, to create the modern Dunhuang grottos.

Named the Dunhuang Modern Grotto Art Project, the herculean project was initiated by Chang Shuhong, famous artist and the first director of the Dunhuang Research Institute. Groundwork for the graving was launched in 1998.

The new grottos were created on 30-meter high cliffs on the side of the Danghe River, twenty kilometers from where the Mogao Grottos, listed as a world heritage site, are perched.

Construction for the modern art project has taken place. Tunnels linking the grotto gate on the cliff to the caves underground are also under construction.

More than 1,600 years ago, a Buddhist monk dug out the first grotto on cliffs of the Sanwei Hill, Dunhuang. Continuous grotto-cutting and Buddhism-related artistic creations lasted one thousand years, leaving modern Chinese people a heritage of 45,000square meters of mural paintings in over 700 grottos, which are prided as one of the world's largest and most beautiful art treasures.

Chang Shuhong, had made great contributions to the protection and research work on the Mogao Grottos since he abandoned the painter's life in Paris and returned to China in 1920s.

"Modern Chinese should resume grotto-cutting work, which stopped 600 years ago in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when the imperial rulers gave up control of the Dunhuang area, because grotto art is the mirror of ages and reflection of history," said Chang Jiahuang, son of Chang Shuhong.

As early as 1958, Chang Shuhong proposed to "record great manifestations of the ages" through grotto art. "Cutting new grottos is the posthumous task of my father and his long-cherished wish before his death," Chang Jiahuang said, who inherited his father's ambition to study traditional Chinese paintings techniques in Dunhuang's grottos.

"Our task lies not only in protecting, studying and publicizing Dunhuang's art, but also in displaying modern art," Chang Jiahuangsaid.

At this belief, the artist began an unprecedented huge cultural project: to cut new grottos.

He ended his vagrant life in Japan and came back to Dunhuang in1996 to start the project. He raised fund by selling his paintings and was financially supported by his mother's savings.

"The motif of new grottos should be concentrated on and in line with folk features and can not be copied anywhere," he said, adding that it would better have support from world-class art masters. The project has received support from different communities. The city government of Dunhuang has requested that the neighboring postal office and reservoir offer free water and power facilities to the project area.

General manager of the WACOM engineering program in Japan has donated a computer system to the project.

Wang Dawei, dean of the Art School at Shanghai University, volunteered the use of the computer system for doing grotto layout and design.

According to Wang's design, the new grottos will all be underground with a total area of 100,000 square meters. The whole compound includes an entrance, sunlight corridor, living quarter for artists, and sections of modern art grottos, dummy grottos via multimedia, grotto art exhibition and cultural exchanges. It is multifunctional, can be used as an art museum, an artist' workshop, an art information exchange center, or even a base for outer space experiments.

The natural surface of bluff, under which new grottos lie, is to be kept, Wang said. Internal walls and ceilings of new grottos will not be furbished to display rocks in their primitive form, while floors will be marbled, polishing like a mirror.

"New environmental protection technologies will be employed in the new grottos to reduce energy consumption and pollution," Wang said, adding that to achieve sound and pollution-free ventilation in the grottos, they will make use of solar energy facilities, replacing the use of industrial equipment for air conditioning.


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