Past Fellowship / Grant

Researching Buddhist Studies and the Silk Road

This GEforCD grant helped engage RISD students in the history and visual culture around the silk road and Buddhism across India and China.

Elena Varshavskaya, Senior Lecturer of Theory and History of Art & Design received a GEforCD grant to conduct new research on Buddhist sites across North West China in order to be able to engage RISD students with relevant, but rarely seen/studied, objects in the RISD Museum collections.

The GEforCD (2018) allowed Varshavskaya to travel for over three thousand miles in the heartland of Asia where she visited major oases on the northern arc of the Silk Road. Varshavskaya’s primary goal was to follow the eastward path of Buddhism from the regions north of India into China. More specifically, areas of her interest included evolution of Buddhist iconography, the demographics and culture of the road, and museumification of the historical sites.

First hand experience of the blooming oasis cities hemmed-in between the forbidding Tianshan Mountains, the Taklamakan Desert and the Gobi Desert offered illuminating insights in how the Silk Road functioned and how much determination, fortitude, intelligence and knowledge went into establishing such an efficient network of multidirectional cultural exchange.

Studies at the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi together with in-situ explorations of the dead cities and Buddhist grottoes in Kuqa, Turpan, Dunhuang, and Ejin were indispensable for contextualizing the region’s diverse artistic heritage and its renewed local appreciation.

Data obtained in the field was amply used in new and old courses, which began in fall of 2019. The upcoming ukiyo-e prints curatorial course will elaborate the class exhibition project around the triptych by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) representing Japanese townspeople at a Buddhist temple. References to the Silk Road legacy is essential in discussions of the Buddhist complex layout and architectural features, iconography of deities, textile patterns, and more. The grant facilitated Varshavskaya’s CAA conference presentations (2018, 2019) and continues informing my research.


Global Engagement for Curriculum Development Grant
  • Xinjiang, China

Feb 13, 2018 — May 25, 2018

  • Theory and History of Art and Design
  • Printmaking
  • Craft
  • buddhism
  • Silk Road
  • Cultural Exchange
  • Textiles

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