Sunday, October 26, 2008
Afghanistan 1: Hidden Treasures
A stunning new exhibition of treasures from four different archaeological sites in Afghanistan has just opened at the Asian Art Museum.
A press preview was held last Wednesday morning with speeches that were both valedictory and rueful.
Terry Garcia of the National Geographic Society (above) explained some of the back story of the National Museum, Kabul which was bombed in the 1980s during the civil war involving Soviet Russia, and then further trashed by the Taliban when they came to power because they took the religious injunction against iconic representation of humans to serious extremes.
Nobody in the outside world knew what had happened to all the treasures housed in the Kabul museum and there was a fear that they had been destroyed permanently. Instead, a few clairvoyant administrators had packed up about 600 objects in nondescript boxes during the late 1980s, and hid them in a sub-sub-basement of the Presidential Palace. Even more amazing, everyone involved kept the secret.
In 2003, President Hamid Karzai announced that the gold hoard of Afghanistan was safe in the presidential vault while mentioning that there were boxes from the National Museum there too. That's when Fredrik Hiebert (above), an academic working for National Geographic, got involved. After a week of negotiation, the Afghanis said, "If you agree to do a scientific inventory, we will open the boxes for you."
This was followed by "If you find the treasures, we can imagine a beautiful world-wide tour to show everyone that our treasures are safe."
The exhibit started in Europe and has now made its way to Washington, D.C. with stops in San Francisco, Houston and the Metropolitan in New York. "When's it going back to Kabul?" I kept asking people, and the answer was a series of sighs and shrugs since the country is still at war and this time it's the Americans doing the bombing. "The treasures are probably safer traveling the world right now."