Humans’ ‘instinctual drive to create’ will be explored in ‘Civilizations’

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
Dome inside the Suleymaniye Mosque (1550-1557)
Courtesy of Nutopia

PBS will revisit one of its most acclaimed series and expand its scope for a new era.

Civilizations, a nine-part series premiering at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, was inspired by Civilisation, Kenneth Clark’s landmark 1969 series about Western art.

This time, the canvas will be broadened to reveal the role art and the creative imagination have played across multiple cultures and civilizations, introducing a new generation to works of beauty, ingenuity and illumination created across continents.

From the landscape scrolls of classical China and the sculpture of the Olmecs to African bronzes, Japanese prints and French Impressionist paintings, Civilizations, narrated by Liev Schreiber, explores the wealth of treasures created through the entirety of the human experience.

In nine episodes, Civilizations travels across the globe, visiting such cultural landmarks as the great mosques of Istanbul, the ancient cities of Mesoamerica, the Buddhist caves of Ajanta in India, the Aztecs’ Templo Mayor in modern Mexico City and the funeral site of China’s first emperor. 

Civilizations explores a sweeping range of topics, including the earliest human cultural artifacts and the representation of the body in art, what happens when different civilizations encounter each other, and the nature of “renaissances” around the world.

Underlying the series is an exploration of the premise that it is through the creative imagination that humanity expresses its most essential self and looks for the fundamental meaning of life. Artists such as Kehinde Wiley, Michal Rovner and Anselm Kiefer, Kara Walker, Richard Misrach, Antony Gormley, Bill Viola, Kira Perov, Cai Guo-Qiang and Damien Hirst add additional commentary and context to this creative exploration.

Civilizations is an awe-inspiring, gorgeously conceived examination of how humans are intimately connected through time, space and culture by a deep, instinctual drive to create,” said Bill Gardner, Vice President, Programming and Development, PBS.  

Episodes will air Tuesdays through May 15, then continue throughout June.

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