Bamiyan Exhibition explores Taliban destruction of Afghan Buddhas

The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and SAVAC (South Asian Visual Art Centre) in collaboration with the 23rd Images Festival announce the opening of the new exhibition, Bamiyan (the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart), on April 3, 2010. This multi-faceted, contemporary art installation comprises an archive of photographs, miniature paintings and videos which examine the aftermath of the March 2001 destruction by the Taliban of the colossal c. 5th century Buddhas of the Bamiyan Valley in Central Afghanistan. It will be on display on Level 2 in the Hilary and Galen Weston Wing until May 2, 2010.

Curated by Haema Sivanesan, Executive Director of SAVAC, and produced by Vancouver-based media artist Jayce Salloum and Afghan-Hazara artist Khadim Ali, Bamiyan (the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart) records the misery of current conditions in Bamiyan and reflects on an area of conflict where a budding Afghan modernity has been observed.

“The ICC at the ROM serves as an ideal platform for contemporary works of art that challenge conventional thinking and illuminate social and cultural issues. We are very pleased to co-present this installation and hope that its message about the true costs of war resonates with viewers,” said Francisco Alvarez, Managing Director, ICC.

Haema Sivanesan states, “ “…heart…” represents an important artistic collaboration examining the impact of a particular instance of ‘cultural terrorism’ in the contemporary context of war. The artists go beyond the front line of the conflict in Afghanistan to explore the lived experiences of the Hazara community, a persecuted ethnic minority who predominate in the province of Bamiyan. The installation takes the form of a personal archive, juxtaposing miniature paintings and photographs alongside ambient and documentary video. The installation unsettles the critical contexts and art-historical categories of each artist’s work to engage a timely cross-cultural dialogue.”

About the Bamiyan Buddhas:
The monumental statues of standing buddhas were carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley in the Hazarat region of central Afghanistan, 230 km northwest of Kabul at an altitude of 2500 meters. Built in the c, 5th century, the statues represent the classic blended style of Gandhara art, Greco-Buddhist art that flourished in the ancient kingdom of Gandhara in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The main bodies were fashioned directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. The lower parts of the statues’ arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks or casts.

About Bamiyan (the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart):
In April 2008, artists Jayce Salloum and Khadim Ali travelled from Karachi, Pakistan to Kabul, Afghanistan and then overland into the Bamiyan Valley in central Afghanistan. The land is scarred by decades of conflict, ravaged by drought and desperate poverty, and troubled by tribal rivalries and a persistent Taliban presence. Of specific interest to the artists were the ruined cave sites of the c. 5th century Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001, a terrorist act widely condemned around the world. The ruins of the Bamiyan Buddhas provided a site from which to examine the situation of the Hazara people, a persecuted Shi’a Muslim minority, who believe they are descended from the sculptors who produced these colossal figures of the Buddha.

Bamiyan comprises a collection of photographs, miniature paintings, and videos which examine the aftereffects of the destruction of the immense Buddhas. The installation expresses a sense of the complexity of the current situation in Afghanistan, and takes up themes of the possibility of resistance, hope and beauty in the context of ongoing conflict.

In conceptualizing this project, Salloum and Ali set out to research and document conditions in Bamiyan in the aftermath of the destruction, and to examine UNESCO’s effort in conserving the Buddhist caves. In undertaking this study, the artists also studied the situation of the Hazara people following decades of war and persecution, and the subsequent efforts to rebuild the city following the stationing of NATO’s peacekeeping forces in the Bamiyan Valley.

Other Exhibition Information:
ICC will host an opening reception, artist talk and exhibition catalogue launch in the ROM’s Peter F. Bronfman Hall (level 2) on Saturday, April 3, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Entrance is free with Museum admission. The exhibition catalogue features essays by journalist Kathy Gannon; artist, educator and writer Paula Abood, and the exhibition curator, Haema Sivanesan, who will all be available at the opening reception of Bamiyan.

The artists will be available for media interviews from 24 March 2010. To arrange an interview with the artists or with Haema Sivanesan, please contact: Srimoyee Mitra, Programs Coordinator, SAVAC, at: or 416.542.1661.

Institute for Contemporary Culture:
The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) plays a vital role at the ROM, a museum whose collections embrace many civilizations through the ages. The ICC is the ROM’s window on contemporary society, exploring current cultural, social and political issues through exhibitions of art, lectures, film series, and informal gatherings. The ROM’s historic collections provide context and depth to the contemporary ideas addressed by the ICC. In this, and many other ways, the ICC serves as a catalyst for stimulating public conversations. For more information on the ICC, visit

Image: Buddha monastery cave site, Bamiyan, Hazarajat, Afghanistan, 4/17/08