The Three Hares: A Brief History

The intricacy of ancestral routes is something that can be pondered by all: its threads weave complex genealogical narratives throughout times and places to create that which remains in the present. Behçet’s syndrome (or the Silk Road disease) is a rare and complex condition with an even more complex ancestral history. The thread of its journey lies in an actual ancient trade route known as the Silk Road, which is responsible for not only the transcendence of Behçet’s Syndrome, but the transportation and trade of physical objects, ideas and religions.

Of all the objects and ideas traded, there remains one symbol which is as ambiguous and unexplained as the disease itself: a strange motif of three hares joined together by one ear. After doing some research, I discovered that this symbol – which was born in the sixth century in the Buddhist Magao Caves in China – travelled across the Silk Road over thousands of years, and is now densely populated in churches across Dartmoor in Devon, where my family has remained for the last 200 years.

Nobody knows the meaning of the symbol. The hares have run amok among contexts, seemingly resistant to definition by retaining Islamic, Buddhist, and Christian examples. My job is not to uncover the symbol’s real meaning, as the beauty of the motif is not in its comprehension, but in its long journey from the Ancient East to the present day West. This symbol is the embodiment of the journey of my ancestors, and thus the Silk Road Disease. As an artist, my duty instead is to try and make sense of this connection, by linking the symbol’s physical journey across the Silk Road to what I physically have access to in the present: the few examples of the symbol in Devon, and the objects at my home, Alston Farm. In doing so, I am self-historicising. I am creating a history of my ancestral journey, of this strange symbol, and of the complexity of the trade and transmission of objects and ideas.

Information gathered from a body of research, and images cited from Susan Whitfield’s British Museum Exhibition text ‘The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War, and Faith.’ For more information on the symbol itself, please refer to the wonderful work of Tom Greeves, Sue Andrews, and Chris Chapman.