In conjunction with the exhibition Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, musicians from the Silk Road Ensemble are in residence at the Getty to create pop-up musical performances inspired by the art and replica caves on view.

In this video filmed inside Dunhuang replica Cave 285, percussionist Shane Shanahan plays an original composition on a drum, using techniques from different cultures to reflect the diverse cultural influences that converged in the caves of Dunhuang.

More to Explore

Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road exhibition information

Silk Road Ensemble Interprets Dunhuang through Spontaneous Live Music Iris article

Silk Road Ensemble musician and instrument profiles

Art, History, and Conservation of the Cave Temples of Dunhuang video

Virtual Tour of Cave 285, Mogao Grottoes

Transcript

[Drum beats throughout]

Shane Shanahan: When I came to the Getty Museum, I was really taken by the depiction of the two thunder gods on the ceiling of Cave 285. I really like it because it’s showing these two gods surrounded by drums, and they’re playing fiercely with both their hands and their feet, and obviously creating a very raucous thunder. And I, as a drummer, was very struck by that.

But as I began to look around the caves more, I was also struck by the way that many different cultures are juxtaposed directly next to each other. In one spot, you can very clearly see the Hindu gods Shiva and Ganesh seated next to a very much Chinese-looking figure. So this is something that inspired me to try to do something similar on my drum by combining different techniques from many different parts of the world. So I’ll be trying to combine Indian techniques with Persian techniques and Middle Eastern techniques to create a unified whole, much like this cave is a very unified whole, despite its many different cultural influences.

[Drum beats]

I think because of Dunhuang’s important location on the Silk Road—it was an oasis in the middle of the desert—it brought together many different people, and those people actually had a very strong influence on each other, as well as the creation of these caves.

[Drum beats continue to the end]

[Drum beats throughout]

Shane Shanahan: When I came to the Getty Museum, I was really taken by the depiction of the two thunder gods on the ceiling of Cave 285. I really like it because it’s showing these two gods surrounded by drums, and they’re playing fiercely with both their hands ...

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