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Is there an autonomous republic of art that has survived across time and through many places? Do objects have autonomy? For Objects Talk Back Madeleine Thien and Rawi Hage engage with these questions by examining two objects which came to Berlin via collections from the Turfan expeditions (1902-1914), from the region of the Northern Silk Road (present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region): the fragment of a Manichaean manuscript written in Uyghur and Turkic; and a wall painting of “Three Uyghur Princes“, donors who contributed to the construction of a grotto in the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves.

Together, the writers examine the contained universes of transitory objects. Rather than thinking of histories as something to be controlled or possessed, they invite us to observe the movement, uprooting, displacement, migration, resettlement and flight of objects, within the context of conflicting yet organically connected beliefs.

Madeleine Thien approaches the “Three Uyghur Princes”through fiction, while Rawi Hage responds to the Manichaean manuscript with narrative non-fiction. Both centre the experience of encounter, which – they say – always remakes us.

“It is not their faces I’m painting,” my father said, “but their salvation.” “How can something like that be painted?” “It is the only thing that can be painted.”
I have chosen a fragment, a trace of a lost book, to explore the notion of residue, incompletion, imperfection, excavation; in short what is lost and what little remains.

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