The Lost Dhow: A Discovery from the Maritime Silk Route
The Lost Dhow exhibit is based on the cargo recovered from a wrecked ninth-century Arab trading ship discovered off the coast of Belitung Island, Indonesia, in 1998. The exhibit, jointly organized by the Asian Civilisations Museum of Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board, and the Aga Khan Museum, documents this remarkable archaeological find and sea-based trade between the Tang Empire and the Abbasid Empire, which together influenced an area stretching from the East China Sea to North Africa. The Lost Dhow gives us an important glimpse into the quantity and quality of the goods traded on the Maritime Silk Route and the cosmopolitan nature of the crews and traders in the ninth century long before the first western European ships dropped anchor in China.
The task for Origin Studios was twofold: to design an exhibition that would inform visitors about the ninth-century cargo ship and its discovery in the twentieth century, and also to create a space to display the commercial cargo and showcase the treasures. Origin created a central entranceway based on the size and shape of the dhow outlined on the floor. This feature is flanked by graphic banners holding historical and contextual information about the ship and its discovery and led visitors to the most valuable and important artifacts – the treasures – of the exhibition. From the treasures, visitors could explore hundreds of pieces of Tang Dynasty ceramics that made up the bulk of the cargo. The end result was an exhibit that emphasized the wonder and resonance of beautiful objects while also providing the deep historical and material context that gives them meaning.
Origin Studios worked with the staff of the Aga Khan Museum and guest curator John Vollmer from schematic design to final design and oversaw installation by the fabricator Holman Exhibits. The temporary exhibition is 5,000 square feet and opened at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, in December 2014.
Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, ON, 2014
Exhibit Space: 5,000 sq. ft.
James Adams, "The Lost Dhow: Aga Khan Exhibit Showcases Links Between Ancient Islam and China," The Globe and Mail (12 Dec. 2014), available at globeandmail.com.
All photographs by Janet Kimber. © The Aga Khan Museum, 2015.