Mughal exhibit a reminder of city's artistic past

AFP
The Afghan capital Kabul offers few reminders of its former glory in Islamic art or religious tolerance, but a rare exhibition of Mughal paintings is seeking to change that.
AFP
AFP

Disfigured by four decades of war, the Afghan capital Kabul offers few reminders of its former glory in Islamic art or religious tolerance, but a rare exhibition of Mughal paintings is seeking to change that.Dozens of enlarged reproductions of miniatures — highly detailed paintings the size of a school notebook — that were created in Kabul during the 16th century have gone on display in Babur Gardens, where the first Mughal emperor is buried among roses and pomegranate trees.

For American historian and Islamic art expert Michael Barry, the exhibition of more than 60 paintings is the culmination of a promise he made to himself while working in Kabul.

“When I was standing in this garden, shattered under mortars and rockets in the 1990s (civil war), I swore to myself that one day I would bring back its glory,” Barry said during a tour of the display he curated. “It’s a way to restore the legitimate cultural pride of a country that has lost so much, to show what its ancestors were able to create and what they are still able to give to the world.”

The original miniatures are held in private and institutional collections around the world. They are so delicate they need to be kept in the dark. To enable ordinary Afghans to see the works and appreciate the richness of their country’s artistic heritage, the American Institute of Afghan Studies ordered enlarged, high-resolution copies of the paintings on metal to be made in Paris.

“This imaginary museum restores in Kabul what made its glory,” Barry said.In the mid-16th century, several painters from the western city of Herat, where miniature painting had flourished under the Timurid empire, were invited to Kabul by Emperor Babur’s son, Humayun. 

The paintings created in Kabul gave birth to the Mughal art of India, Barry said.Babur is one of the last Mughal gardens and was described by UNESCO as “an outstanding example of a cultural landscape.”

It was designed by Emperor Babur before he conquered northern India and it eventually became his final resting place. The garden was devastated during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s but has since recovered with the help of the Aga Khan Foundation is a popular place for young couples and family outings.

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