Silk Road Conversations with Homa Taj (MUSEUMVIEWS)

Silk Road Interviews are inspired by Silk Road Week, an annual event conceived by Chinese Museums Association, International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles (IASSRT), and China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. The theme for #SilkRoadWeek 2020 is “The Silk Roads: Mutual Learning for Future Collaboration.” We thank IN ZHEJIANG, our media partner in China (on Facebook).

Name : Homa Taj | Country : USA| Website : MUSEUMVIEWS | Years Active : 23 years

Q- How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about your field?

It is museology. Not musicology. Many make that mistake.

I study the histories and mechanisms of institutions of culture, with interest in the so-called emerging nations… which, ironically, are among the oldest civilizations in the world.

Q – What inspired you to become a curator (or dealer)?

I inherit my love for arts and culture from my late mother, and languages and travel from my father.

Q – Why did you choose this particular field (of research)?

I started working in theatre and film, later in art history. But my passion for traveling is what inspired me to focus on museums.

Despite social media trends (all kinds of museum hashtags, and IG accounts, etc), you must travel to visit the museums that you are studying or researching. Unlike art history which can be done via texts, images, etc.

Q – What is the most memorable object you’ve researched, or worked with?

Too many to recall. However, seeing pages from the Shah Tahmāsp Shahnameh at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, many years ago.

The Persian epic poem recounts the history of pre-Islamic Persia or Iranshahr (Greater Iran). The book contains 62 stories, recounted in 990 chapters with 50,000 rhyming couplets. This particular version is absolutely sublime….

Abu’l Qasim Ferdowsi (or Firdausi) (935–1020), The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76), Persia, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
Abu’l Qasim Ferdowsi (or Firdausi) (935–1020), The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524–76), Persia, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

Q – Do you recall when was the first time you heard of the phrase “Silk Road”? What was your first impression of it?

I must have been 4-5 years old. My parents told my brother and I about the ‘Rah-e Abrisham (Silk Road)’ as they took us on a day visit to the tomb of (another) Persian poet, Omar Khayyam in Neyshabur, Iran which was one of the main stops on the ancient Silk Road. Omar Khayyam was of course a Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet (10-48-1131). We’d also take an hour’s drive from Tous, the mausoleum of the great Persian epic poet Abu’l Qasim Ferdowsi 935-1020 (image above) was born.

In other words, technically speaking, I was born on the Silk Road (Mashhad, Khorasan). 

Q – What is your most memorable experience of travelling along the Silk Road?

The above journey, I suppose… since I recall fantasizing about caravanserai and other “Silk Road” fantasies for many years …

Part of the Figure of a Deity and a Woman Donator Wearing a Chinese Dress (fragment), Tangut State of Xi -Xia, Khara-Khoto, 14th c, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia
Part of the Figure of a Deity and a Woman Donator Wearing a Chinese Dress (fragment), Tangut State of Xi -Xia, Khara-Khoto, 14th c, State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

Q – Which city or region along the Silk Road are you looking forward to visit, for the first time?

The whole of China, Kazakhstan, … Oh, far too many to list!

Q – What language(s) spoken along the Silk Road have you studied, or would wish to study?

I am a native Persian speaker which was at one point the lingua franca of the Silk Road. I have studied Arabic but in desperate need of practice. And, have an ear for Turkish – because my father is Azeri. And, I have started to learn Mandarin. It’ll be a long & pretty exciting road …

Q – What is the hardest part of your work that people don’t realize?

We must slow down. It’s really difficult to communicate the needs for scholarship which is an extremely slow process, and for understanding the fundamentals of art and its institutions in the contemporary museum world… since everything has become far too commercial (& clickbait-y).

Q – What is your dream (or even fantasy) research project?

To spend a few years to learn Chinese so that I can read great works of literature without too much pain.

Q – If it were possible, what historic figure would you like to meet? Why?

Catherine The Great of Russia. A very learned woman who doggedly prevailed over numerous obstacles.

Q – What movie best depicts a historic or aesthetic aspect of the Silk Road?

Let’s see, in the contemporary sense, I’d say Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (1997).

Also, anything by by the great Sergei Parajanov including The Color of Pomegranates, Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors, & Ashib Kerib.

Ah, there are too many others …

Q – What music or soundtrack most embodies the sound of the Silk Road for you?

Again, too many to name. One example is the sound of the santur which was invented in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), and Iran. In China, yangqin (扬琴) has a similar sound and is said to be derived from the Persian santur.

Q – What fundamental change(s) in your work do you anticipate in the post-pandemic world?

Far less traveling than before – which had become too much in recent years, especially with the too many contemporary art fairs that consumed the budget of a majority of art organizations and museums.

Q – What modern day cultural trend or activities, especially in your field (sports, music, art, architecture) has its roots in the Silk Road – that many do not know?

FOOTBALL, or soccer as it is called in the United States. And, of course, Polo. Among others.