August 17, 2013

Llewelyn Morgan's "The Buddhas of Bamiyan" reviewed by Catherine Sezgin (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Llewelyn Morgan, University Lecturer in Classical Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, "had an interest in Afghanistan from a couple of sources," before he spent 14 months writing The Buddhas of Bamiyan. Morgan explained in an email:
Like a lot of Classicists, I was fascinated by the legacy of Alexander the Great and the Greek culture that persisted in Central Asia for centuries after him. Years ago, I was staying at my grandmother's house (after her death), and was sifting through the antiques and knick-knacks she obsessively collected. I found a samovar, and discovered that it was from Kandahar in 1881, during the Second Afghan War. Later I made friends with someone who was in charge of clearing mines in Afghanistan and he persuaded me to celebrate my 40th birthday by visiting the country.
The Taliban's destruction of the giant stone Buddhas in Afghanistan captured international attention. Morgan concisely explains which group provided the Taliban with the ammunition to destroy the two colossal images of the cliff Buddhas (Al-Qa'ida) and why (to create international outrage six months before the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001). Morgan assesses the loss of the archaeological monument ("Bamiyan was Afghanistan's Stonehenge, the most celebrated archaeological site in the country"):
It remains a terrible tragedy that they were destroyed. What I hadn't realized before doing the research is what an immensely rich history that they had and what very significant monuments they had been for a variety of cultures. ... they were a wonder for three separate cultures, the Buddhists that created them, the Islamic peoples who followed, and then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, for the Western world. The 19th century, when British and European travelers and spies rediscovered the statues, is a particularly fascinating period of history. The best way to compensate for an artistic crime is to fill in the proper meaning of these monuments.
You may finish reading this book review by Catherine Sezgin in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney (available electronically and in print via subscription and Associate Editor Marc Balcells (ARCA '11) is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.