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Monday, June 11, 2012

THE VICTORY OF THE VOID, A DEFEAT FOR THE TALIBAN



The victory of the void, a defeat for the Taliban
The Bamiyan Buddhas will not be rebuilt, says Unesco. The architect Andrea Bruno proposes a scheme that focuses reverently on their absence

By Anna Somers Cocks. Conservation, Issue 236, June 2012
Published online: 31 May 2012

When Andrea Bruno, an architectural consultant to Unesco for the past 40 years, went back to the Bamiyan Buddhas, blown up in March 2001 by the Taliban, he immediately scrapped all ideas he might have had about some sort of replacement. “The void is the true sculpture,” he says. “It stands disembodied witness to the will, thoughts and spiritual tensions of men long gone. The immanent presence of the niche, even without its sculpture, represents a victory for the monument and a defeat for those who tried to obliterate its memory with dynamite.”

Two years after the destruction, the Japanese National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, working through Unesco and the Afghan authorities, began putting money into clearing up the site and consolidating the surfaces of the niches. The aim at this point was to recreate the Buddhas, an immensely ambitious project since the larger of the two was taller than the Tower of Pisa.

But there were doubts from the first whether this was the right approach. There have been other proposals, from laser projections of Buddhas onto the cliff face—unrealistic in a part of the world that barely has electricity—to a plan from the University of Aachen to attach the remaining fragments to the niche wall on a metal frame—unsatisfactory because hardly any of the stone carving remains intact, the Buddhas having been hewn all in one piece out of the living rock, which was therefore reduced to rubble by the explosions.

What is more, Andrea Bruno, who knows the country intimately, having led the conservation of the fort at Herat and the minaret of Jam over many years, believes that such solutions do not take the sensibilities of the Afghans into account. Rebuilding the Buddhas would inevitably be politically loaded, he says, besides causing religious offence. “Here the Muslims strictly oppose images; to recreate the Buddhas would be an insult even to non-Taliban Afghans. We must show good manners,” he says. In fact, after ten years, the Unesco meeting on Bamiyan held in Tokyo in December 2011 announced finally that the Great Buddha would not be recreated, and the smaller Buddha was unlikely to be.


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