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John Thackara

Afghan Culture Museum




A lifetime ago, during a six month journey in Afghanistan, I passed the spectacular site of Bamiyan, shown in this photograph, on my way into the Hindu Kush. This was long before the three enormous statues of Buddha, carved into the sides of cliffs, were destroyed by the Taliban on the grounds that they were an affront to Islam.

A two-day visit did not make this hippy-tourist an expert — but the impact of that site has lived with me ever since. The statues could only have been created by one of humanity's most ancient civilizations — and yet that cultural and social legacy is hardly ever mentioned in contemporary media coverage of the country.

It is welcome news, therefore, that a project to create a virtual museum of Afghan culture has been launched in Paris by an independent producer, Pascale Bastide. The celebrated and visionary architect Yona Friedman has agreed to to design and "build" a virtual structure that will enable access to Afghan collections which are now physically scattered in many museums and private collections around the world. Every art object will have its own geographic, ethnological and historic information; a panoramic table will situate these objects in the larger context of European, Mideastern and Asian civilizations. There will be also a special pavilion offered to Afghan people to deposit their own archives.

"My fundamental idea about architecture is that we are overbuilding" comments Friedman; "earth is over occupied. A museum, from this point of view, doesn't need to have a building." Rather than attempt to fill the cavity left after the demolition of the giant statues with a new buillding, his idea is to use that space as a kind of grid, or promenade, to present the online exhibits.

Another collaborator in the project, Michael Barry, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, states that "several moments of mankind's fate and creativity were sealed on what is today Afghan soil — and the world needs to see that".

Posted in: Cities + Places, Museums

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