March 18–September 17, 2023
Drink wine in Kabul citadel, send round the cup again and again
For there is both mountain and water, and both city and countryside
—Baburnama (Memoirs of Babur)
Descriptions extolling the diverse geography forming present-day Afghanistan abound in the memoirs of Babur (r. 1526–30), a descendant of the Timurid rulers of Iran and Central Asia who founded India’s Mughal dynasty after fleeing the Uzbeks in Afghanistan. Afghanistan boasts a rich history dating to ancient times, with legacies of historical figures such as Alexander the Great and world faiths such as Buddhism and Islam. Its pivotal position at the center of the Eurasian world has helped shape its multi-layered cultural identity.
This display brings together illustrated pages from medieval manuscripts produced at an Islamic court in Herat, depictions of Afghans produced outside of Afghanistan, and a series of contemporary landscape photographs by American artist Luke Powell from the Museum’s collection. They present a variety of perspectives on the many “landscapes” of Afghanistan as expressed through its art as well as through foreign impressions—at times, embedded in colonial bias—of its people and geography.
In spite of the tumultuous events threatening their survival, Afghanistan’s land, culture, and especially its people have endured and defined the country’s distinctive richness and beauty. In the modern era, the country’s strategic location put it in the crossfire of British and Russian imperial rivalry, leading to three wars throughout the nineteenth century. Following the demise of the Afghan monarchy in 1973, a continuous series of wars began in Afghanistan with the Saur Revolution of 1978, led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan against president Mohammad Daoud Khan. This event was followed by the Soviet-Afghan war, a civil war, the Taliban regime, and most recently, the invasion and twenty-year war led by the United States and its allies, the US departure from Afghanistan, and the subsequent reinstatement of the Taliban regime.
Featured: Luke Powell, The Steppes (detail), 1975. Dye transfer print on paper. Victor Diaz Color Photography Collection, 2015.434.