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News and Views

Critically Acclaimed Hidden Treasures Exhibit Opens to Public

Lines stretched across the mezzanine of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, May 25 as hundreds stood in line to see the critically acclaimed exhibit “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum Kabul.” Those who waited were not disappointed.

The 228-piece collection, with pieces dating back over 4,000 years, features stunning artifacts of gold, silver, ivory, lapis, jade, rubies and emeralds. But more than that, it tells a story of bravery and secrecy, of the attempts of dedicated Afghans to saving their heritage.

The treasures – originally kept in Kabul’s National Museum – were long feared lost, victims to the turmoil of decades of war. Unbeknownst to historians, archaeologists, and most Afghans, many of the museum’s most important artifacts had been transferred under utmost secrecy to vaults hidden beneath the presidential palace as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The brave Afghan officials who hid the artifacts maintained their secret despite years of economic hardship, deprivation and even torture.

The treasures lay hidden throughout the Soviet invasion, ensuing civil war and the harsh rule of the Taliban. After the fall of the Taliban and a return to democracy, in 2003 those who had hidden the treasures came together to unearth them. After visiting Europe to critical acclaim, the exhibit has started a year-long residence in the U.S. that will see the treasures visit Washington, San Francisco, Houston and New York. The exhibit's travels was made possible by the National Geographic Society.

The Afghan government hopes to accomplish a great deal with the exhibit. Government officials have expressed their hopes that the exhibit will give Americans a more three dimensional picture of Afghanistan’s ancient and contemporary history, and that the exhibit will serve as yet another opportunity to thank the West for their aid in combating the Taliban. Ambassador Said T. Jawad expressed his country’s hopes for “Hidden Treasures,” saying, “We hope this exhibit will help overcome the darkness of Afghanistan’s recent history and shed some light on its rich past, thousands of years old, as a crossroads of cultures and civilizations. We also hope it will showcase the courage of people who put their lives on the line to safeguard and preserve these treasures…They are the real heroes.”

In addition to the exhibit, the museum hosted a celebration of Afghan children’s songs in recognition of Louise Pascale’s new songbook, “Qu Qu Qu Barg-e-Chinaar.” A choir of Afghan children entertained a packed auditorium with energetic renditions of children’s songs in Dari, Pashto, Hazari, and Uzbek.

Although the choir has gone, the exhibit is expected to continue drawing crowds until its September 7 close. The works of art in the exhibit are examples from several major archaeological sites in Afghanistan; the most famous being the Bactrian gold. Discovered in 1978, the Bactrian Horde consists of approximately 20,000 artifacts, many wrought in gold, excavated from the first century tombs of nomadic tribesman. In addition the exhibit features artifacts of Greek, Persian, Roman and Indian origin covering a five-hundred year period of Afghanistan’s storied past.

The exhibit has already received rave reviews. The New York Times called it "revelatory and heart-rending...[a] triumphant exhibition," while the Washington Post proclaimed it "a remarkable display from a remote outpost in the world of antiquity: a dusty land of foreign traders, violent nomads, dangerous women and the unmistakable glint of gold."

For more information on the exhibit, please visit the following websites:

National Geographic

National Gallery of Art

Embassy of Afghanistan

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