Visual bilingualism and the funerary space: Keys to understanding the spatial semiotics of Central Asian tombs in 6th century China

Lecture | April 17 | 5-7 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

 Pénélope Riboud, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU

 Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS)

The dominant religion of pre-Islamic Sogdiana was a local form of Zoroastrianism, and this has led most scholars to assume a correlation with the religious beliefs and practices within the Sogdian community settled in China. And indeed, many aspects of these tombs show that Central Asian funerary practices were maintained. However, some aspects of “Sino-Sogdian” tombs, such as the treatment of the corpses, the spatial organization of the tomb and the visual repertoire remain puzzling within the frame of any specific religious belief. These “discordances” have often been interpreted as compromises, and mere consequences of the need to adapt to a complex cultural environment. This talk will investigate these hidden funerary riddles, in order to understand what they tell us about the tomb’s owner, his beliefs and moreover, what were the deliberate strategies engaged to build a bilingual iconographic program that fits in both Chinese and Sogdian narratives of the after world.

Pénélope Riboud, an Assistant Professor of Chinese History and Art History at Inalco in Paris, is a historian and an art historian who focuses on the society and visual culture of Medieval China. She was trained in France as a historian and an archaeologist at Université Paris 1- Panthéon Sorbonne, then as a sinologist at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco-Langues’O) in Paris where she received her PhD in 2008. She is currently spending a year as Visiting Research Scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University.