Silk Road Conversations with Golnaz Golsabahi (Curator)

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 : Golnaz Golsabahi | Country : Iran | Years Active : 24 | Website : LinkedIn 

Golnaz Golsabahi in Toykyo, Japan, courtesy G. Golsabahi

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

I describe it as a unique combination of art, history, story-telling and all things related to humanity, and our heritage. Museums as cultural organizations try to raise public awareness about all those fields with a wide range of activities, employing different ways to communicate with their communities.

Q – What inspired you to become a curator?

Amazing feeling of discovery, curiosity, and my love for observing the world through travel, or even, imagination.

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

Because museums have many things to teach, research and to narrate. They provide great opportunities to experience, to feel, to watch or to live with the subjects of the research, or if they are the subject – I mean museums themselves – then you as a researcher have access to an endless world with many different aspects … which can be a dreamy heaven for every researcher.

Luristan Bronz, 100-600 BC, British Museum

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

So many to choose from: astonishing Luristan Bronzes (1,000-600 BC), to Persian Daric gold coins of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 559-330 BC), and Islamic arts ranging from calligraphic to metal works such as arms and armors, miniatures. I really can’t answer this question but I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had, and continue to have to work with different kinds of objects throughout my career. I have a personal museum in my mind of all of them.  

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

I was born and raised in Rasht in Guilan Province which is located in North of Iran. Rasht is on the way to other cities along the Silk Road, such as Ardebil, Tabriz, or Baku, in Azerbaijan. So, since early childhood, “Silk Road” has been familiar to those of us who are or were already living along or near this ancient route. Officially, however, I was aware of the Silk Road through books since I began to learn to read.    

Turkmenistan, Iran, courtesy Payvand News

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

I remember visiting Gorgan in the North of Iran. I was traveling with my parents, on our way to Mashhad, in Khorasan. My parents decided to spend one or two nights at a relative’s house, and I recall taking excursions to nearby villages where we met local Turkmens who introduced us to their decorative arts and crafts, specially rugs and those colorful shawls with big roses. I still remember how I loved wearing one of their shawls, covering my head and shoulders like the local ladies, and how I was happy to know the different faces and places in my country.

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

I would love to visit Tajikistan and Uzbekistan specially Samarqand and Bukhara. I have been to China twice, and would like to go back. 

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

I speak Persian (Farsi). It is one of the main languages along the Silk Road. I am also familiar with Arabic and Turkish.

Golnaz Golsabahi, courtesy ICOM International Committee of Museums

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

The importance of field research, and staying up-to-date with recent trends and developments in our field. Also, of course, cultivating and sustaining relationships with fellow professionals in museums and cultural organizations, around the world.

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

To have more opportunities to travel and do field research in various museums, internationally.

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

I have a long list in mind. From scientists, to artists, historians, authors, adventures, musicians, emperors, politicians, astronauts, presidents, but if I had to choose one, I would say, Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) – the great Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet.

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

Marco Polo, the 1980’s Italian-American TV miniseries about the 13th century Italian merchant and explorer. A marvelous series which for me was like an introduction to history, ethnography, geography, art of film-making, film music, and more specifically, the Silk Road.

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

Silk Road Journeys – When strangers meet by Yo-yo Ma and the Silk Road ensemble

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

Fewer public programming in museums, less traveling related to work and more use of the cyberspace & digital technologies.

Q – What modern day cultural trend (sports, music, art, architecture) has its roots in the Silk Road – that majority do not know?

Miniature painting; musical styles such as Muqam; and technologies such as paper-making have strong roots on the Silk Road.