Harvard CAMLab

Shadow Cave | Call for Artists 2022  

Half yojana or so south of the Nagarahāra city is a rock cavern amid rolling hills, facing southwest. Here the Buddha left his shadow. Viewed from a distance, [the shadow] appears as if it were the Buddha’s true form—a radiant golden image in full splendor. Upon approach, the image fades into a tantalizing obscurity. Kings of various regions have sent skillful painters to make copies of the image, but none have succeeded.
——Faxian (337-422), Record of Faxian
CAMLab, a new initiative at Harvard University that combines humanistic research and experimental curatorial and artistic practices, is pleased to announce a call for artists for its flagship project Shadow Cave. Consisting of a series of collaborations between CAMLab and artists, the project will be presented in CAMLab’s exhibition space on Harvard’s campus, and potentially also in other venues and in online formats.


Project Description

Shadow Cave addresses a foundational myth of Buddhist art originating around the year 400 CE in the region of Nagarahāra (in present-day Afghanistan), part of the kingdom of Gandhāra. There the Buddha is said to have leaped into the wall of a cliffside grotto, imprinting on it a “shadow image” that was radiantly reflective like a mirror when seen from afar but disappeared into the rocky surface upon approach.

Popularized by pilgrims’ accounts, eulogies, and meditation manuals, the “shadow image” became an object of yearning for Buddhist devotees, who sought to visualize it in their minds. In sites such as Dunhuang, Longmen, and Maijishan, they shaped caves into their own “shadow caves,” transforming physical space into mental theater. The Shadow Cave became the prototype for a millennium of icon- and cave-making practices across Asia.

This project aims to explore issues inherent in the Shadow Cave and their implications, across cultural and historical contexts, for the contemporary practices and discourses of art, media technology, and museology. These issues include the natures of images and vision; theatricality and ritual in aesthetic experiences; and the dynamics between artwork and space, original and replica and ruin, sensory experience and imagination, materiality and transcendence.

For a discussion of the Shadow Cave lore and its key source texts, please refer to Eugene Wang, “The Shadow Image in the Cave: Discourse on Icons,” in Early Medieval China Sourcebook, ed. Wendy Swartz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 405-427.

This article and additional recommended readings are available here︎︎︎



This call to open to individual artists and collectives based in any location and working in any medium, physical or digital.

︎How to Apply:
Please submit your application as a single PDF file to both 
arielhou@harvardcamlab.com and alanyeung@harvardcamlab.com.


Each application should include the following:
  • Current CV
  • Select images of past works
  • 500-word statement in English or Chinese describing the proposed work and its conceptual relationship to the Shadow Cave lore
  • Sketches or illustrations of the proposed work

Applications will be considered in three phases with respective deadlines as follows:
  • Phase 1: July 31, 2022
  • Phase 2: September 30, 2022
  • Phase 3: November 31, 2022


The collaboration between CAMLab and accepted artists may take place in person or remotely. In regular dialogue with the project team, artists will engage critically with the source material, and discover aspects within it that resonate with their own practices. While the project team will offer feedback and guidance, artists will maintain creative control over their works.

CAMLab will facilitate access to resources at the lab and at Harvard more generally, including its library collections and online databases, as well as experts in the fields of Buddhist studies and art history.

Additionally, artists within the Shadow Cave project may also choose to collaborate with each other.



Artists will be given a stipend, the amount of which will be determined on a case by case basis. CAMLab will provide additional funding for materials and installation if necessary. If on-site work is necessary, CAMLab may be able to facilitate visitorships to Harvard.



Please direct inquiries about the Shadow Cave project and requests for additional materials to arielhou@harvardcamlab.com, specifying “Shadow Cave” in the subject line.
︎ ︎  @HarvardCAMLab