AFGHANISTAN – HIDDEN TREASURES FROM THE NATIONAL MUSEUM, KABUL, Now at the Asian Art Museum

Only West Coast venue for precious artifacts
from the Bronze Age site of Tepe Fullol

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Extraordinary artifacts uncovered in modern-day Afghanistan, long thought stolen or destroyed during some twenty-five years of conflict until the dramatic announcement of their existence in 2003, make their only West Coast appearance on their US tour at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco now through January 25, 2009. Click here to order tickets on-line: AFGHANISTAN: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul

“Seven years ago, with the Taliban roaming our streets,” states His Excellency Said Tayeb Jawad, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, “none of us could have imagined that Afghanistan would be able to recover and celebrate its rich history. Today, Afghanistan is once again regaining its historic role in bridging cultures, countries, and civilizations. This exhibition presents a country of long history, rich heritage, breathtaking beauty, and dynamic trade and commerce. The treasures on display speak to Afghanistan’s ancient history and its present-day challenges while showcasing the sacrifices of our people to protect and preserve our heritage. I hope that my fellow Afghans in the Bay Area come see the exhibit and celebrate the future of hope that these recovered ancient artifacts represent.”

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CLASPS – Tillya Tepe, Tomb III, 50 CE, gold, turquoise, mother of pearl.
(Photo, Thierry Ollivier)

Revealing the multicultural heritage of Afghanistan – once the heart of the Silk Road linking cultures from Asia to the Mediterranean – are some 228 objects ranging in date from 2200 BCE to the second century CE. The artworks are mainly drawn from three archaeological sites, together with a few earlier works providing background. These artworks which belong to the NATIONAL MUSEUM, KABUL, include fragmentary gold bowls with artistic links to the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia (largely present-day Iraq) and the Indus valley (largely present-day Pakistan) from the Bronze Age site of Tepe Fullol; bronze and stone sculptures and a gilded silver plaque from the former Greek colony at Ai Khanum (“Lady Moon”); bronzes, ivories, and painted glassware that had been imported from Roman Egypt, China, and India, and excavated from ancient storerooms discovered in the 1930s and 1940s in Begram; and more than one hundred gold ornaments from the “Bactrian Hoard,” found in 1978 in Tillya Tepe, the site of six nomad graves, which reveal a synthesis of Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian, Chinese, and Siberian styles.

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JAY XU, Director, Asian Art Museum – Gold bowl, fragment, 2200-1900 BCE.
(Photo, Thierry Ollivier)

“As the only West Coast venue for this historic exhibition,” said museum director Jay Xu, “the Asian Art Museum is pleased to bring the artistic and cultural achievements of ancient Afghanistan to the San Francisco Bay Area – home to the largest Afghan community in the United States. The museum welcomes those locally and from afar who wish to celebrate their heritage, and who wish to discover the unique material, aesthetic, and intellectual achievements of this vibrant and enduring culture.”

Organized by archeological site, the exhibition artworks begin in the Hambrecht Gallery with a small number of objects from Tepe Fullol in northern Afghanistan. In 1966, farmers near the Afghan village of Fullol discovered the first evidence of a Bronze Age civilization in the region. Gold from the nearby Amu Darya riverbed most likely provided the gold for several bowls – part of a burial cache – found at the site, including a fragment of a bowl depicting bearded bulls dating from 2200 to 1900 BCE.

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Golden Ram, headdress ornament. 1st Century BCE–1st Century CE. (Photo, Thierry Ollivier) – TERRY GARCIA – Executive Vice President for Mission Programs, National Geographic

Terry Garcia, Executive Vice President for National Geographic’s Mission Programs said, “Our goal is to introduce this unique collection of objects to a broad audience and raise awareness and understanding about the little-known ancient cultures of modern-day Afghanistan. We also want to tell the heroic story of the Afghans who risked their own safety to hide and protect these treasures.”

The main group of artifacts in Hambrecht Gallery comes from the site of the former Greek city of Ai Khanum in a region that had been conquered by Alexander the Great. These artifacts reflect the Mediterranean influence in the area between the fourth and second centuries BCE. The works include Corinthian capitals from before 145 BCE. A similar capital was shown to the late Afghan King Zahir Shah on a hunting expedition in the region in 1961, leading to the discovery of the site. Objects in this room also include bronze casts and limestone carvings representing Greek figures, as well as sundials, architectural ornaments, and vessels of the Greek style.

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Goblet – glass and paint. (Photo, Thierry Ollivier) – Glass goblets, cups with handles, glass millefiori and ribbed bowls. 1st Century CE

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HERMAÏC PILLAR, Limestone, 1st half of 2nd Century BCE. – BRUCE COLE – Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities.
(Photos, Seán Martinfield)

“The artifacts featured in this collection are more than dazzling exhibition pieces,” says Bruce Cole, chairman, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES, “they serve as primary documents recording the vitality of Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage. The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to have supported the preservation, cataloging, and exhibition of these treasures as part of our broader ‘Rediscovering Afghanistan’ initiative, and we are delighted to play a part in bringing this collection to citizens across our nation.”

The fourth group consists of some 100 gold objects dating from the first century BCE to the first century CE. On display in the Osher Gallery, these artworks were among those discovered in 1978 by a Soviet-Afghan team led by Viktor Sarianidi at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan. The site contained jewelry and gold ornaments from the graves of six Central Asian nomadic people.. The graves contained thousands of gold objects sewn onto the burial shrouds and clothing of the deceased. On view will be an exquisite crown, as well as necklaces, belts, rings, and headdresses—most made of solid gold with insets of semiprecious stones such as turquoise and garnets. Many of the Bactrian objects reflect local artisans’ distinctive blend of motifs known from Greek, Roman, Indian, and Chinese art.

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Pendant depicting the Dragon Master and gold crown – Statuette of woman standing on a makara.
(Photos, Thierry Ollivier)

Afghanistan is free with general museum admission. However, due to the anticipated popularity of Afghanistan, a timed entry system will be used for the exhibition. Museum admission tickets will be sold for specific dates and times during the run of the exhibition. Advance purchase of museum timed tickets is highly recommended. Click here to order tickets on-line: AFGHANISTAN: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul.

Tickets can be picked up at Will Call the day of the visit. Advance and day-of tickets are also available at the museum with no processing fee, subject to availability. Free admission on TARGET FIRST FREE SUNDAYS is on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to capacity restrictions, admission is not guaranteed.

Click here to become a member: ASIAN ART MUSEUM, SAN FRANCISCO

Click here to purchase the companion book by author Fredrik Hiebert: AFGHANISTAN: Hidden Treasures From The National Museum, Kabul

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AFGHANISTAN – Hidden Treasures From The National Museum, Kabul, by Fredrik Hiebert

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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