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Special Exhibition—Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Said Tayeb Jawad, speaks about the rich culture and history of Afghanistan at the inauguration of the exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul. Introduction by Met Director Thomas P. Campbell.


Thomas Campbell: I am Thomas Campbell, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. On view in our galleries are treasures of great beauty and delicacy from ancient Afghanistan that—against all odds—have survived the passage of time and the threat of destruction. They now form the exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul, at the Metropolitan Museum through September 20, 2009—their final United States stop on a worldwide tour. During the war-torn era of the past quarter century, they were thought to have been destroyed but had actually been hidden away by a heroic group of Afghans and were dramatically brought to light again in 2003.

We are proud to commemorate the great artistic legacy of Afghanistan through this rich selection of works of art from the celebrated collection of the National Museum of Afghanistan. And we are extremely pleased that we had a special speaker representing Afghanistan at the exhibition's opening: His Excellency Said Tayeb Jawad, Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States. Here are his remarks from our June 15 inaugural program.

Ambassador Jawad: Thank you very much for joining us today to celebrate and share the art, culture, and history of Afghanistan here at this magnificent venue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I am very grateful to the Museum, to National Geographic, and especially to my dear friend, Dr. Hiebert, to bring this exhibit to all of us here.

Seven years ago, when the Taliban were roaming in the streets of Afghanistan, it was hard—very hard to imagine, for us in Afghanistan, probably for you here, to have the opportunity to display part of the art and culture and history of Afghanistan here in the United States. But since they were discovered, or rediscovered, they have been traveling to different destinations in Europe and the United States, and fortunately close to 1.5 million people have got the opportunity to see them just here in the U.S., in Washington and Houston and San Francisco. And now, in the—really, the best place that we could ask for, for the display and exhibition of these arts—is here, at the Met.

We are very fortunate to have this opportunity and to have an opportunity to showcase this to our friends here in the United States, especially here in New York. New York has important symbolic significance for us because the same evil forces of the terrorists that destroyed your Twin Towers destroyed the twin Buddhas in Afghanistan. By bringing this collection to you, we want to emphasize that you cannot destroy history, identity, determination, and courage of the people by acts of sabotage and terrorism.

It's also a token of our appreciation, as Afghans, to you for your support, to help us recover our country, our culture, and help us rebuild Afghanistan, especially—not only by financial assistance—by having helped us display these items, but also by sending some of your best boys and girls to fight, to make Afghanistan, the world, and the region a safer place, to make sure that there is no terrorist attack in the future in this part of the world or in our part of the world in Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen, with your assistance, once again Afghanistan is again regaining its historic role of bridging cultures, countries, and civilizations. The artifacts that you see here show the true Afghanistan—the Afghanistan that existed for five thousand years, the Afghanistan that still exists as a bridge of cultures and civilizations. It shows the ancient history of Afghanistan; it shows the rich heritage of Afghanistan; it shows the breathtaking beauty and the dynamic commerce and trade that existed in Afghanistan.

These artifacts that you see, especially the gold collections, are a symbol of Afghanistan, of brilliant past covered by the ashes of war and neglect. And we are carefully taking a brush and brushing aside the ashes of the war and neglect from the face of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is truly a mosaic of different cultures, countries, and civilizations, from China to India to Balkan, to Greek, to Roman, and that mosaic has been shattered by many years of war and violence. But the spirit of the Afghan people is not shattered. It's still there. And as I mentioned, we are rebuilding that once again.

The collection that you see, from gold vessels to Hellenistic city of Aï Khanum to the ivory, gold, and bronze collection, showcase three important phenomena for us in Afghanistan.

First, you will see the rich history of Afghanistan. And second, you'll see the local wealth that existed in Afghanistan. Just the gold collection, the jewelry that you see, it's almost thirty-five kilograms of gold, and belonging to a family—not to a king, as it was, for instance, in the case of Egypt. It was a normal family. And you can be assured that there was not only one family with this kind of wealth, there were many of them. So the country was very wealthy, physically—not only as part of this civilization, but also there was a lot of local wealth in Afghanistan and it's still there, if you get over the war and violence that exists.

But the third, most important part is the heroic work of the Afghan people who put their lives on the line to preserve these items for you, for me, for our next generations. It's one thing when you have a passion for the art and buy an additional piece for a million dollars for your living room. It's another thing that you get paid almost nothing, or if you're lucky, you get paid something like twenty dollars a month, and still preserve these very precious collections for the next generations. They could have sold—any of them could have sold any piece of these gold jewelries and made their way to a comfortable life, into the West or somewhere else. But they didn't. So when—these elderly men who were the real key keepers, they kept it. Even when we went back in Afghanistan, they didn't tell us right away, they were checking on us, too, to make sure that we will keep them. And after a while they just one by one came out and said, "Those artifacts that are perceived to be stolen, looted—they are there, they are safe." And when we opened those safes back in Afghanistan, everybody's eyes really . . . couldn't believe it that they are still there and that they are preserved for us.

But fortunately they survived and we have an opportunity to display them here. But at the same time our National Museum, which was built eighty-six years ago—still it's not in a condition that we would be able to display these things there. It's not safe yet. That museum suffered a lot, it became a war front for many years. And a lot of the items were looted. Close to probably thirty thousand coins have been smuggled out, looted from Afghanistan. So I would like to take this opportunity to ask all the collectors, the museums, the governments, to help us repatriate and then bring some of the items back to Afghanistan. And some of this is under way. We have got some of the pieces through the cooperation of police and border control here in the U.S. and other countries. But it's more important also for the private collectors to come forward and send these items back to Afghanistan where they belong.

And I hope that all of you will get a chance one day to visit Afghanistan. But until that opportunity is there, we are bringing a part of Afghanistan to you, as I mentioned, as a small token of our appreciation, but also as a way of displaying the real Afghanistan, the Afghanistan behind the headlines that unfortunately has been dominant in the past five or six years with the war and violence that's going on there.

I am very grateful for your interest. I hope you enjoy the exhibitions and spread the word about what I emphasize, again, is the real Afghanistan, the Afghanistan of rich history, beautiful arts and crafts, and a friendly and hospitable people. Thank you very much.

Narrator: More information about Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul, is available at metmuseum.org.

The exhibition is made possible in part by Raymond and Beverly Sackler and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The exhibition was organized by the National Geographic Society and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

It is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

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