An important touring exhibition of historic images of Afghanistan opens on 24 April 2010 in the Queen’s Palace in Baghe Babur, Kabul. The exhibition is supported by the World Collections Programme – funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – and the Government of Norway, through the Afghan Cultural Initiative implemented by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. It will later be shown in Herat.
Afghanistan Observed reflects the observations of European visitors to Afghanistan between 1830 and 1920. This was a period during which Afghans’ relations with the outside world was critical not only for the country and region, but for the superpowers at the time.
The exhibition features 150 digital prints of sketches, prints, drawings and photographs that relate to the history and culture of Afghanistan, selected from the British Library’s collections.
Among the artists represented are:
- Charles Masson (1800–1853) – Masson effectively founded the study of archaeology in Afghanistan in the 1830s. His drawings form the earliest record of many previously unknown sites
- James Atkinson (1780–1852) – Atkinson served as a surgeon in the First Afghan war and produced a lively series of watercolours, later published as Sketches in Afghaunistan (1842)
- John Burke (1843–1900) – Burke was a photographer who accompanied the British forces in the Afghan Campaigns of 1878–80.
Afghanistan has long exerted a powerful attraction over outside observers. While much of this material was produced in the course of generally ill-fated military incursions onto Afghan territory in the nineteenth century, the artists and photographers concerned did not restrict themselves to recording military subjects. They also responded with lively curiosity to the people, landscapes and culture of Afghanistan.
This material represents a unique visual record of Afghanistan’s culture, people and landscapes, little of which is presently available in Afghanistan. At the end of the exhibition, the digital images displayed will be given to the National Archives in Kabul to ensure that this valuable resource for the study of Afghan history and culture is available to future generations of Afghan researchers.
John Falconer, Curator of Afghanistan Observed and Head of Visual Materials at the British Library, said:
“The support of the World Collections Programme has enabled us to bring a selection of high-quality printed copies from British collections to Kabul, where they will be housed in the National Archives after this exhibition ends. As the focus of the world is again on Afghanistan, it is timely that these images should be exhibited in Kabul, so that the Afghan people can witness how outsiders saw their land and its people at a momentous period of their history.”
The exhibition has been curated by John Falconer, Head of Visual Materials at the British Library, in partnership with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.