Founded in 2002 by husbands Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury, Silk Road Rising (originally Silk Road Theatre Project) began as an intentional and creative response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We recognized that the consequences of that catastrophic day would reverberate for years to come, posing unique and urgent challenges for artists of all backgrounds. It would, moreover, underscore our commitment to educating, to promoting dialogue, and to healing rifts via the transformative power of storytelling.
Harnessing that power, we set out to challenge the ideology and hatred that fueled the 9/11 attacks and the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim backlash that immediately followed. Our vision was to counter negative images and stereotypes of Middle Eastern and Muslim peoples with representation grounded in authentic, multi-faceted, and patently human experiences. We’d center politics that were anti-racist, anti-colonial, and pro-feminist, and tell stories that were by us, about us, and for all.
Our focus quickly expanded beyond the Middle East to encompass the vast territory known historically as the Silk Road, a network of trade routes stretching from China to Syria. The legacy of the Silk Road provided us the narrative from which our core values would appear: Discovery, Pluralism, and Empathy.
Over the years, Silk Road Rising has emerged into an award winning, nationally recognized art-making and art service organization that shapes conversations about Asian and Middle Eastern Americans. Understanding that cultures are inherently linked, we seek out the intersections of cultures without undermining the specificities of cultures. And we strive to create a world that values art over ideology and inquiry over dogma.
The Silk Road
The term “Silk Road” refers to the great trade routes that originated in China and extended across Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and into Europe, from the 2nd century B.C. until about the 16th century A.D. The dominant land routes connected China to Syria, then adjoined to sea routes, creating an East-West corridor linking Japan to Italy. These transcontinental caravans resulted not only in trade, of which silk was an important commodity, but also in tremendous cross-cultural interaction among the peoples of the regions; interaction that fostered the exchange of ideas and the fusion of art and aesthetics.
The Silk Road is a legacy associated with rich traditions of oral narrative, epic poetry, and storytelling. Thus, the celebrated trade routes serve Silk Road Rising both as a geographic guide as well as a metaphor for intercultural dialogue.
If we consider the many trade routes the Silk Road spawned and linked up with, then today, the modern nation states of the ancient Silk Road comprise some two-thirds of humanity.