Archive for March 2011
Saturday, 26th March 2011 – David Franchi
It was much applauded the London concert “Ralph Towner and Paolo Fresu” at the Southbank Centre, the last 10th March. In the London concert they played a repertoire from their acclaimed album “Chiaroscuro” (2009), together with jazz classic and some Towner compositions. Their outstanding improvisation abilities, merged with an impressively musical talent and with the subtle style of the performance has created a memorable concert. The sound reminds a New Age approach overcoming the usual jazz music. The combination of trumpet and flugelhorn and acoustic guitars is a definitely but refined atypical beat. They have a wholly characteristic sound, especially in the tones extremely personal and unique.
During the London concert, Ralph Towner explained ‘Punta Giara’ was the first piece he ever played with Paolo Fresu, when they participated to a festival in Sardinia fifteen years ago. Towner is now resident in Italy and it was simple to get together again with Fresu, but they did it just in 2009, thirteen years later, recording the album ‘Chiaroscuro’ for the ECM.
This was their first UK tour together. Ralph Towner and Paolo Fresu are two masters of music.
Multi- instrumentalist Ralph Towner is an iconic musician. Born in Chehalis, Washington (USA), the 1st of March 1940, he is well-known for the renowned group Oregon which has been in existence for 40 years. He has made notable recordings of jazz, classical music, folk music, and world music.
Born into a musical family, his mother a piano teacher and his father a trumpet player, Towner learned the piano improvisation at the age of three. He started trumpet lessons at the age of five. He first played jazz in New York City in the late 1960s as a pianist and was strongly influenced by Bill Evans. He joined Consort of Paul Winter the world music pioneer in the late 1960s and in the same period, already at the University, he began improvising on guitars.
Towner left the Consort in 1970 to form the group Oregon. In the 1970s they released numerous highly influential records mixing folk music, Indian classical forms, and avant-garde jazz-influenced free improvisation.
At the same time, Towner has began a longstanding collaboration with the label ECM. He worked with Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Kenny Wheeler, Weather Reports, and Egberto Gismonti and played as a duet with Gary Burton, John Abercrombie and Gary Peacock.
Paolo Fresu, born in Berchidda, Sardinia, the 10th February 1961, is an Italian leading trumpet/flugelhorn player, receiving numerous prestigious awards. Apart from his own outstanding groups, he has played with an eclectic cast of famous musicians including Dave Holland, John Zorn, Jim Hall, Uri Caine and many more, whilst Carla Bley wrote an album specifically to showcase his sound, The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu.
After the London concert we met Paolo Fresu for an interview.
“A duet with Ralph Towner, guitar and trumpet, something special, not really jazz…”
“Well it’s a project undoubtedly very special and brave. It is born in a studio. Ralph Towner asked to me to share this project, so we went to a recording studio. With him, we met 15 years before, as he reminded during the today London concert, in Sardinia in a shared project, but we had no further meeting. So we recorded this album for the prestigious ECM that has had a good success. The idea to make concerts is born at that time. It is three years we are touring everywhere in Europe and in the US. It’s a really brave project, doubtless. It is very unusual, indeed, to use trumpet and acoustic guitars. Results have been heard tonight here at the Purcell Room.”
“A beautiful concert, the audience appreciated it. The music is something different. It is not your usual jazz, reminds more the New Age music style.”
“Well I don’t know what it reminds. To be honest I really have an extremely vast musical horizon. I have very quote ‘classical’ unquote projects, and I have completely different projects very much mélangé, as French people will say, with world music, with other kinds of music. This present project is for sure one in between them and it is an indefinable one, because we have jazz but not only: we have world music, we have contemporary music, we have a bit of everything. It worth to say that ECM released my album ‘Mistico Mediterraneo’ (ed. Mystic Mediterranean), which involve a Corsican choir and a bandoneon and that is even more advanced of the one we played tonight. ‘Mistico Mediterraneo’ is a really indefinable music. Instead, here tonight with Rowland is still in a jazz range, let’s say so, we have the improvisation, though it is not the traditional one, and we used traditional jazz history materials. Tonight we played three jazz standard ‘Blue in Green’, ‘Beautiful love’ and ‘I fall in love too easily’. Therefore, there is a link with jazz history. Speaking generally, the new project I made with ECM, the one with the Corsican choir, for instance it is a completely different music area. I have to say, I like to hone from a musical world to another one, sometimes maybe catching off guard for the audience…”
“So there is already an album. Will this project go on for a long time?”
“Well, the album was released two years ago. Today it was the next to last concert of our English tour started the 3rd of March; so today in London it was our eighth concert. We played everywhere in the UK. Tomorrow we will play in Manchester. Then we have a week off. We will go on tour ending in the middle of April, playing in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Turkey and other countries. There are other forthcoming tours. Therefore, we can say it is a project that exists and it is not unlikely that we will record again a new album, having seen the success of the last one.”
Published for: www.italoeuropeo.co.uk
Saturday, 26th March 2011 – David Franchi
The V&A Museum organised “Yohji Yamamoto”, until the 10 July 2011. It runs in parallel with two other events “Yohji making waves – The Wapping project” (12 March – 10 July 2011), and “The Wapping project Bankside, Yohji’s women” (12 March – 14 May 2011) both in Wapping, London. These three events together celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the first European show of a major fashion designer and converge on the key question: is this fashion or art?
“The Wapping project Bankside, Yohji’s women” displays the pictures of seven international photographers: Nick Knight, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Peter Lindbergh, Craig McDean, Sarah Moon, Paolo Roversi, and Max Vudukul. They moved their first steps in the stimulating burst of creativity provoked by Yamamoto’s arrival in Europe at the beginning of the 1980s.
“Yohji making waves – The Wapping project” has one only major piece installed the renowned gigantic white silk wedding dress with bamboo crinoline from Autumn/Winter Collection 1998. The item is placed in the vast Boiler House of the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station.
The main exhibition, “Yohji Yamamoto”, is at the V&A Museum. It’s a solo installation-based retrospective, displaying over eighty outfits. It consists in one large room and several installations in others museum galleries. The main space presents over sixty mannequins dressed with pieces of clothing from Yamamoto’s womenswear and, for the first time on display, items from his menswear collections. On a side wall stands a mixed-media timeline presenting excerpts from Yamamoto fashion shows, films and performances, graphic material and select photographs.
Besides, Yamamoto’s visionary design is exhibited on mannequins placed amongst the galleries of the V&A: the entrance is paying, so people who decide not to buy the ticket can still interact with his works. Positioned in hidden corners of the Museum, chosen by Yamamoto himself, the silhouettes create a direct dialogue with the surrounding environments in which they are. However, this is a piece of hunt and probably not really clear. If someone wants to follow a Yamamoto itinerary at the V&A will have to literally chase these mannequins through the British Galleries Landing, in the Norfolk House Music Room and looking out onto the John Madejski Garden from an alcove in the Hintze Sculpture Galleries. Other pieces are in the Paintings Gallery, amongst the museum’s Ceramics collections and within the Tapestry Gallery.
The garments are on unprotected mannequins, so visitors are free to walk through, or around, them, having almost a physical contact. Fabrics are essential for Yamamoto, they are a brand of his work. Supporting local craftspeople in Kyoto area, his textiles are created to specification often employing traditional Japanese dyeing and embroidery techniques such as Shibori and Yu-zen. The selection of items on show gives visitors the opportunity to see Yamamoto’s application of traditional Japanese techniques.
Yohji Yamamoto was born in Tokyo in 1943. His father was killed in the Second World War. He graduated in Law from Keio University in 1966. He then started to work with his mother dress-making business. His further studies in fashion design at Bunka Fashion College led to a degree in 1969. In 1972 he set up his own company, but in 2009 it was filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo, being into debts of more than 65 million of US dollars. However, another Japanese company, Integral Corp, is restructuring Yamamoto’s company.
From the start of his career Yamamoto was recognised for challenging the fashion conventions and, through this, subverting the traditional ideas about sex gender. In his early time, he was struggling to reproduce the magazine fashion style. Moreover, he was working and living in the prostitute area of Kabukicho, Shinjuku. Therefore, since childhood he was strongly resolute to avoid the icon of the sweet- doll- woman desired by prostitute clients. He believes perfection is ugly because is a sort of forced order of things. Therefore, his work has strong asymmetric proportions and cuts emphasised by mostly using the black, white and grey colours.
This counters the common beliefs of the glittering glamour. In his first show in Paris in 1981, together with Rei Kawakubo at that time his partner, the catwalk was plenty of models with sulky expressions, white painted faces, cropped hair and flat shoes. The music was an electronic heavy heartbeat. Black was the main colour at that time very unpopular. The establishment did not appreciate, press defined it “Hiroshima chic” and in Japan women dressed in this style were called ‘the crows’. However, Yamamoto and Kawakubo have rewritten notions of beauty in fashion, and the humorous androgyny of their work creates new modalities of gender identity, becoming a status symbol for young urban creative generations.
Yamamoto has also become familiar to consumers through his partnerships with other brands, including Adidas (Y-3), Hermès, Mikimoto and Mandarina Duck. He also realised significant collaborations with different kind of artists such as musicians Elton John and Placebo, filmmakers Takeshi Kitano and Wim Wenders, theatre personalities Pina Bausch and Heiner Müller, art director Marc Ascoli and M/M.
With respect to the catalogues and iconic images they produced for Yohji Yamamoto in the late 1980s, Peter Saville art directs the V&A exhibition identity, publicity and catalogue working with Nick Knight to create imagery and YES Studio on graphic design.
The exhibition is designed by Masao Nihei, Yamamoto’s long-time collaborator scenographer and lighting designer, it is curated by Ligaya Salazar, the V&A’s Contemporary Curator and it is supported by Canon UK Ltd.
This exhibition should be an artistic and delightful alternative to the weekend shopping for Londoners.
Published for: www.italoeuropeo.co.uk
With a great success of public ended the Italian fair “La Dolce Vita 2011”. People invaded the Business Design Centre in Angel, Islington, from 10th until 13th March 2011. La Dolce Vita is the annual show that brings Italian life style to London. The venue is really a hit, close to Clerkenwell Road, Holborn, that is the historical area of the Italian community, whose first settlers started to arrive in the beginning of the 19th Century. Nowadays it is still possible to find evidences of the migrants, for instance the Italian Church in Farringdon.
The question is: how does Londoners perceive Italians? It doesn’t need to be said, of course, that people who paid a ticket to enter at La Dolce Vita 2011 were already well -disposed at this event. However, it worth to ask them how their experience was.
Someone was happy but regret cannot buy much, like Simon, 47, from Kentish Town: “It’s pretty good fun, really enjoyable. The problem is that if you want to buy it’s finished or they don’t sell it. Do you know where about is the VIP Lounge?”
It was fine to find and to try particular merchandising: “There are products that we’ve never seen in the supermarket and we have the opportunity to taste them”, said Aga, 31, from Crystal Palace.
The lovely Italian cooked food was hard to reach according to Giuseppe, 62, from Kilburn: “There is long queue and I needed to wait a while before I had been able to have some pasta for a supposed quick meal here. And so crowded…”
But Stefano, 36, from Wood Green, had a different experience: “It’s amazing. The food has been good and it was not too crowded” and his friend Cristina, 31, from London Bridge cherished the new improved entrance policy of this edition: “Better than the last year. The price for the entrance was reduced and it was easy to find free tickets.”
Luciana, 33, from Hammersmith appreciated the possibility to have meals: “Eating here is lovely and I liked very much.”
Her friend Mohammed, 31, from Barbican, props her taste but also likes the location: “I am here to buy coffee. The music is nice. It’s a really good environment”.
The different blend of stalls was welcomed by Stefania, 42, from Hammersmith: “This year there are less property agents. Now it is better, last year there was too much presence of these companies.”
His friend Alberto, 44 from Uxbridge do agree with her: “This year there is the good mix between food and estate agencies stalls. There is no official sponsor but it is present some clothing and jewellery. Previous editions were looking too much focused on business.”
Their first time friend Gaetano, 46, from Forest Hill supports the opinion: “It’s my first time here but it looks well organised and the food is good.”
Hanna, 26, from Ladbroke Grove, was puzzled by the position of the stalls: “The place is nice and the food is lovely but the upper floor should be indicated more clearly. I realised there was one after a while, just because I’ve seen people going up and down.”
For a specific public was important to have training, Catherine, 35, Highbury: “I could attend to some workshops on Italian food, on how to make it and to cook risotto.” Same opinion from her friend, Eleanor, 33, Clapham: “It was good to have classes on wine.”
According to the public, it seems La Dolce Vita 2011, a part few redefinitions to be made, have had a great success.
Published for: www.italoeuropeo.com
Ida Kar pictured London’s life for three decades catching its intimate history. Therefore, it is a pleasant idea that the National Portrait Gallery, London, organised the major exhibition “Ida Kar: bohemian photographer, 1908- 1974”, ongoing until the 19th June 2011. This is the first museum exhibition for 50 years devoted to Ida Kar and includes nearly 100 photographs, some not previously exhibited. It highlights Kar’s Archive for the first time, from which on display are letters, a sitters’ book and a portfolio book made in 1954 of her trip to the Paris artists’ studios.
“National Portrait Gallery acquired Ida Kar archive in 1999. It includes over 800 vintage prints and 10,000 negatives. And that was the job for the last 10 years.” said Clare Freestone, Curator of the exhibition and Associate Curator of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.
Ida Karamian was born on 8th April 1908, from an Armenian family, in Tambov, near Moscow. In 1921 the family moved to Alexandria (Egypt) where she was educated at the prestigious Lycée Français. In the late 1902s she travelled to Paris and experimented photography. Returned to Alexandria she met and married Edmond Belali. They opened a photographic studio called “Idabel”. They organised exhibitions in 1943 and 1944, in Cairo, with a surrealistic group of which one of the member was poet and artist Victor Musgrave, an English RAF officer. Kar divorced from Belali, married Musgrave in 1944 and with him moved to London in 1945.
She started to work as theatrical photographer. On this beforehand period is focused the first space of the exhibition, “Ida Kar, early years”, here notably portrait of Londoner Nobel, Bertrand Russell. In 1949, Kar and Musgrave moved to 1, Litchfield Street, off Charing Cross. They established a studio on the upper floor and a gallery downstairs, later transformed in the celebrated ‘Gallery One’ (1953).
In spring 1954 Ida Kar took a sabbatical three months period and went to Paris. At that time she specialised in portraits of famous artists and realised her first solo exhibition, at Gallery One, “Forty Artists from Paris and London”. The results of this work are on display in the second space at the NPG exhibition, “Forty artists, London and Paris” including portraits of famous artists Marc Chagall, Feliks Topolski, Man Ray, Le Corbusier, Tsugouharu Foujita, Alberto Giacometti and Gino Severini.
The third space, “Artists and writers”, deals with the period of mid- 1950s when Kar and Musgrave household became a meeting point for bohemians and Kar started to travel commissioned by Tatler magazine. Here notably are portraits of Eugene Ionesco, Dmitri Shostakovic, André Breton, T. S. Eliot, Jean – Paul Sartre and George Braque.
But during the press preview there was also a surprise. In among the third space portraits one is of writer Bernard Kops (1926) who was present and said: “We lived much close. When I had my first play she was there. She was passionate and tenacious. We used to bump in everyday.” Kops is considered to be a keystone in ‘British Kitchen Sink Realism’, a cultural movement using social realism style to explore social issues and political controversies by depicting domestic situations of working class Britons, later developed in ‘Coronation Street’ style.
At the press preview, aside his portrait, we also met writer Royston Ellis who said: “I was a performer poet. By the time the pic was made, I was touring with Jimmy Page (guitarist of Led Zeppelin ed.) who was accompanying me on stage.” Ellis ended performing a reading. In 1960s he was used to read his ‘rocketry’ accompanied by local musicians and among others he met the young The Beatles. Ellis had large influence on them according to Lennon: “The first dope, from a Benzedrine inhaler, was given to The Beatles (John, George, Paul and Stuart) by an English cover version of Allen Ginsberg — one Royston Ellis, known as ‘beat poet’ … So, give the saint his due.”
Keeping on with the exhibition the fourth space, “Le Quartier St. Yves”, is based on the series commissioned to Ida Kar by Tatler (1961), with remarkably pictures of Henry Moore, Doris Lessing, Barbara Hepworth and Somerset Maugham. It is focused on the homonymous resort on the Wales coast, an artist colony which reached notoriety in the 1920s from the project ‘Leach Pottery’ and later attracted famous artists, counting Alfred Wallis, Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Barbara Hepworth, Piet Mondrian, and Maurice Sumray. In 1993, a branch of the Tate Gallery, the Tate St Ives, was opened, and it also looks after the Barbara Hepworth Museum and her sculpture garden.
The focal point of the fifth space, “Travel, documentary portraits”, is the reportage Kar made of her numerous travels around the world, particularly in Cuba, a Communist country, whose ideals she herself embraced.
The height of Kar’s success was her solo exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery (1960) that contributed to change perception to a large degree and brought her critical, if not financial, success at the time.
“The London scene & later sittings”, the last space, displays the activist side of Ida Kar. Here the portrait of Gustav Metzger gives the idea of that period the late 1960s. Metzger (1926) is an artist and political activist who developed the concept of Auto-Destructive Art and the Art Strike who is recognised for his protests in the political and artistic environment.
At the press preview another lovely participant was the assistant of Kar, Julie Green, aka Julieta Preston: “I joined the studio in 1962. I am fed up with men; she said to me, I’m looking for females. It was a fantastic time, she was a wonderful person. It was a great fun and very instructive.”
Supported by Raffy Manoukian – Spring Season sponsored by Herbert Smith LLP – the exhibition is not a come along by itself but there will be other events, such as, guided tours, talks, late shift extra and evening events.
Published for: www.italoeuropeo.com
[photo:Two Studies of a Woman Seated on the Ground, c. 1715-16]
This is the case of the exhibition “Watteau: the drawings” at the Royal Academy Arts of London, from 12th March until 5th June 2011. It is the first major UK retrospective about the drawings of the French painter Jean- Antoine Watteau.
The exhibition contains over 80 works on paper, it is organised chronologically and looks at the development of Watteau drawing styles. Drawing is the core process of his work. The originality of his painting is matched by the brilliance of his drawings which are among the most extraordinary in Western art. Watteau preferred drawing to painting, finding difficult to convey in oil the propinquity he could achieve on paper with chalk, his favourite medium. He prized his sketches and kept them in bound volumes to be able to refer to them when painting as they were an essential source of inspiration.
For his ability to use red chalk in his body of work, Watteau has achieved a broad range of colour and tone. However, he is best known for his mastery of the “trois crayons” technique, the fine manipulation and expert balancing of red, black and white chalks. He made very little use of pen and ink and occasionally combined chalk with graphite, and also employed washes.
Moreover, Watteau innovated the portraying as per the pleasant figures in poses but also for the variety of subjects of which some of his best known were sketched from the world of Italian comedy and ballet.
Jean-Antoine Watteau was born the 10th October 1684 in Valenciennes, a Flemish city, which in 1678 was annexed to France from the Spanish Netherlands. For all his life Watteau considered himself a Flemish. He worked as an apprentice for a local artist then moved to Paris when turned eighteen years old.
[Woman Wearing a Mantle Over Her Head and Shoulders, c. 1718-19]
At the exhibition the first room, “Beginnings and Independence”, gives an immediate sense of the early talent of Watteau, though he was recognised as a master very lately, by the time he died. While working in the studio of Claude Gillot, in Paris, a painter known for his theatrical scenes, Watteau developed a taste for subjects from the Commedia dell’Arte an Italian form of theatre that would become one of Watteau’s lifelong passions together with the music. Therefore, in this room, is possible to see many portraits of actors, musicians, but also shops interiors another important subject for this artist.
The second room, “After the Old Masters”, focuses on the work of Watteau about history subjects dedicated to learn from Old Masters in order to perfect his own skills. Watteau felt a particular affinity with Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and Campagnola and in this room the works on display show how wittingly Watteau interpreting and incorporating the lesson of the masters.
Very unusual, for that time, subjects are in the third room, “Persians and Savoyards”. A delegation from Persia arrived in Paris in 1715 and Watteau could produce some high quality studies. The same stylistic qualities can also be found in the series of the Savoyards, a population coming from the extremely poor region of Savoy – whose kings will become the last ruling dynasty of Italy ended with the Second World War. Every winter these mountaineers were looking for work in large cities. Generally the urban and rural poor were ignored as artistic subjects or represented in critical way. Watteau characterised them with dignity and humanity.
The fourth room, “Developing the fêtes galantes”, deals with the great invention of Watteau. Here are many examples of this genre, and studies about a variety of subjects, for instance the never shown before “Ten studios of a left hand”, or “Five studios of a woman’s bed”. Additionally, “Three studios of the bust of a black boy”, an unusual kind of representation, makes appreciate the Watteau technical ability in rendering the black skin pigmentation of the child. The invention of ‘fêtes galantes’ has given Watteau notoriety. It is a genre of small portraits depicting elegant people socialising in parkland settings.
The angle of the fifth room, “Nudes”, is mainly on studies Watteau made for his academic paintings, particularly for ‘Spring’, ‘Autumn’ and ‘Jupiter and Antiope’ demonstrating his competence in this genre, but also some erotic examples
The last room “Final years” focus on the last part of Watteau life. Here notably the “Woman wearing a mantle over her head and shoulders” which has an expression of sadness and is even sombre a rare subject for Watteau.
In 1717 Watteau was finally elected a full member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Affected by tuberculosis, Watteau’s health deteriorate and he retread to Nogent- sur- Marne where he died on 18 July 1721, aged only 37.
Watteau influenced profoundly following generations of artists acquiring the spirit of the French Rococo and antedated the work of the Impressionists, and reaching a vast posthumous reputation. In the nineteenth century his influence enlarged. Watteau was cited in many artist works, including poets like Gautier and Verlaine, writers such as Stendhal or Thomas Mann, and even musicians as Debussy.
His brother Noël-Joseph Watteau (1689-1756) will be the father of painter Louis Joseph Watteau (1731-1798) whose son will be painter as well François Watteau (1758-1823).
The exhibition has been curated by Pierre Rosenberg, Académie Française, Président-Directeur of the Musée du Louvre, Louis-Antoine Prat, Chargé de mission, Département des Arts graphiques, Musée du Louvre and Katia Pisvin, Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Generously supported by Region Holdings, the exhibition comes together with other activities lectures, talks, schools and families programmes.
[photo- Royal Academy Arts of London]
Published for: www.italoeuropeo.co.uk
“Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World” was inaugurated by Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, on Tuesday evening, 1st March, ongoing at the British Museum until the 3rd July 2011.
President Karzai was in London for talks with PM David Cameron. At the opening ceremony, present the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the Director of British Museum, Neil Mac Gregor, Karzai said: “After thirty years of war and continuing struggle, today, having on display Afghan heritage, reminds us again of the glory and endurance of our country. What we’ll see today, will remind you, ladies and gentlemen, of a different Afghanistan, of a peaceful Afghanistan, of an Afghanistan where society lived and nourished, where society mingled with countries around. Today, as I stand here my hope is that for Afghanistan people there is a prosperous Afghanistan, with a richer culture into the future, has once again revitalised. I declare the show opened”.
Afghanistan benefited of being a vital intersection between Asia, Europe and Africa of important commercial itinerary, significant civilisations and merging artistic influences. This exhibition displays selected items from the British Museum and over 200 stunning objects loaned from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul.
After many years of war, doubts arisen about the preservation of the Afghanistan heritage. The finds on display survived through great personal efforts, as Director of The British Museum, Neil Mac Gregor said: “For these objects are here, only, for the courage of scholars and curators who hid them and protect them”.
The first room is dedicated to Tepe Fullol. More than six thousand years ago, at the beginning of the Bronze Age (ca. 2200 BC), a population settled near Oxus River (modern Amu Darya), Hindu Kush. They had no writing, so the original name is lost, but they have been nominated ‘Oxus Civilisation’ from the river’s name. They left several manufacturing and architectural tradition. In 1966 farmers near the village of Fullol accidentally discovered a burial cache. The grave contained several gold manufactures, indicating that Afghanistan was already part of an extensive network of trade and cultural exchanges.
Around 328 BC, Bactria, a province of the Achaemenid Empire, was conquered by Alexander the Great. The second room focuses on the Greek colony of Ai Khamun (‘Moon Lady’) founded in 300 BC. It developed into a prosperous town where Hellenism and eastern traditions merged together creating new art forms influencing Asia until the Islamic conquest. Ai Khanum was accidentally found in 1961 and brought to light by French archaeologists from 1964 to 1978. It is the best preserved Hellenistic city of Asia, modelled on a Greek urban plan and plenty of Greek and near East buildings. In the mid first century Ai Khamun was pillaged by the nomads Kushan.
[in photo:AfghanGold_29: Gold and turquoise appliqué known as the‘Aphrodite of Bactria’. From Tillya Tepe,Afghanistan, 1st century BC–1st century AD.National Museum of Afghanistan.]
Nomadic populations played a significant role for thousands of years. They were coming from the Eurasian steppes and appeared around the year 1000 BC. As a consequence of their migratory lifestyle, not much written remain. So the study of nomads is based on spotted archaeological sites and on the texts of the other civilisations relating to them. For example, a major source of information is Herodotus, a Greek historian from the fifth-century BC, who called them Scythians. Iranians called them Sakas.
Chinese files report the Yuezhi nomadic confederation was pushed out from their original territory in the Gansu area, around 175 BC. Some branches of them settled in northern Afghanistan and had a part in constituting the Kushan Empire (first century BC to third century AD) that broadened from Afghanistan to northern India.
The third room focus on Begram, the Kushan summer capital, built on the Silk Road. The site was partially excavated from the 1930s to the 1950s by French archaeologists. The finds of Begram demonstrate the assorted tastes of the local elite and their talent to accumulate great wealth.
Afghanistan is located on a central position of the Silk Road a widespread network of routes connecting East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean world, as well as North and Northeast Africa and Europe. It was not a real “road” in itself but rather a logistical network identified as a series of pathways and stoppages utilised for the commercial transport of cargo. Made of long distance arteries, Silk Road routes were connected to several smaller networks of commercial and non commercial use. The Silk Road was also a representation of long travelling and remote business across Asia. Obstacles and perils burdened the huge distances. The same person was unable to transport goods for the whole route and only small supplies were movable from one end to the other. In recent years, Silk Road is again being used.
One of the rare nomadic archaeological evidence is Tillya Tepe (‘Mound of Gold’ in local Uzbek) in the fourth room of the exhibition. Tyllia Tepe is a Bronze Age site, dated 4000- years- old, excavated by a Soviet team in 1978. Six Yuezhi graves of the first century AD were found belonging to a man and five women, together with a hoard of about 20,600 gold ornaments including coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns. The collection is particularly valuable to the Afghan people, as much of their heritage was looted from museums during the civil wars after the fall of the Soviet backed regime.
The “Golden Hoard of Bactria” was briefly on exhibition in the Kabul Museum before the 1979 Russian invasion. In 1989, the last Communist president of Afghanistan, Mohammad Najibullah ordered to move the hoard from the museum to an underground vault at the Central Bank of Afghanistan in Kabul. The doors of the vault were locked with keys which were distributed to five trusted persons and could only be opened if all the keys were available, a form of protection against the numerous Taliban stealing attempts. During the US invasion, the Taliban tried a last attempt to steal the treasure, but they did not know that all keys were needed, so they planted bombs on the vault door. Before they could detonate the bombs, US troops arrived at the bank and the Taliban were forced to flee. The hoard was saved, as the vault bombing would result in a collapse of the store chamber, destroying it forever. In 2003, after the Taliban was successfully defeated, the new government wanted to open the vault, but the key- holders (tawadars) names were purposefully unknown. President Karzai had to issue a decree authorizing the safecracking. But in time, the five key holders were successfully assembled and the vault re- opened, witnessed by Viktor Sarianidi the archaeologist who originally found the hoard.
Museum of Afghanistan.The last room displays ongoing projects to preserve and promote culture in Afghanistan and the efforts to restore the National Museum of Kabul and its lost patrimony. Over the past 30 years friends of Afghanistan have tried to identify and to return those ancient treasures. The core message of this exhibition, in fact, is that in Afghanistan though disorder and violence there is hope.
Supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the exhibition comes with other events, including performances, film screening, lectures, workshops, guided tours, family activities and gallery talks.
All images © Thierry Ollivier/Musée Guimet.
Published for: www.italoeuropeo.com