Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Before and After

The western Buddha as it stood from A.D. 554 until March 2001, when it was destroyed by the Taliban. At 180 feet, it was the larger of the two:

A huge empty niche now punctuates the majestic Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan where the giant western Buddha, one of two, once stood:

An interesting article about the two Giant Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley raises the question: should these amazing sculptures be restored?

Who doesn't remember the photos in Time Magazine of grinning Taliban militia seated atop the Buddhas as they laid explosives to destroy them in March 2001? My own reaction was as an artist, rather than religious or spiritual outrage. As an artist, I loathed anyone who had the brass cajones to destroy works of art, protected by the UN as both endangered and as a World Heritage site. But the militia was ordered to "take down the gods of infidels" and viewed the Buddhas as just that.

"Five years after the Taliban were ousted from power, BamiyanÂ’s Buddhist relics are once again the focus of debate: Is it possible to restore the great Buddhas? And, if so, can the extraordinary investment that would be required be justified in a country crippled by poverty and a continued Taliban insurgency in the south and that is, after all, overwhelmingly Muslim?"

The rock the Buddhas were carved out of is soft, anddisintegratess in sun and rain. Huge chunks are carefully bagged andcataloguedd, but a tremendous amount of the rubble is just dust. In my own opinion, anyreconstructionn would ultimately be merely a replica of the originals. Are replicas the same thing? I've seen exact scale replicas of Michelangelo's David, and I've seen the real David. It's hard to tell the difference other than an ineffable quality that touches me in a way the replicas do not.

So should the Buddhas be rebuilt? At this point, archaeologists have access to the site that is only possible because the statues are gone. New discoveries are being made, and the entire history of the site is being revealed. Would rebuilding the Buddhas put an end to those discoveries? Were the Buddhas put in place to actually hide what's been hidden for centuries?

They were magnificent, amazing art because of their scale, and now they're gone. Art, by its very nature, is transient and fragile. Color fades, materials disintegrate, it disappears. Why try to recreate what has been removed?

I don't have answers at all.


sumo said...

The hard fact is that it is gone...we know why...and it cannot be the same no matter what is done. It's horrible and it distressed me terribly when I heard about it. I have the same view about it that you do. By now with all that has happened and will yet happen...I think to recreate it there is beyond happeneing. Maybe it will stand as a lesson in the long run about areas of the world being destroyed because of hate. Antiquities are untouchables to me no matter what...but people in time of political tensions don't consider it that way.

pissed off patricia said...

It was horrible that they were destroyed but to rebuild them takes away from the loss. It makes them renewable and takes away from their original value and worth. With art, I don't think that's wise.

enigma4ever said...

The Statues were there for those in the region to feel the strength of their Faith, to know the serenity and peace of Buddhism....and it was a place to pray. It was not just an assault on Art ( as horrendous as that is), it was also an assault on Another Religion of that was in many ways a Warning that Any Extreme Religion can malign, minimalize and destroy the threads of a Culture's History....All that is needed is misguided egomanical leaders with an abundance of explosives and ignorance....

thanks for posting on this is heartbreaking and disturbing to see the shadows where greatness stood guard....

Yet they were unguarded against their own Fate.

DivaJood said...

Sumo, yes, restoring them is not the same as what they were before the Taliban destroyed them. And I'm really of the sense that they exist in memory as strongly as when they were actual objects.

POP, I absolutely agree - art is not a renewable resource, but then I get back into those Sol Lewitt drawing packets. Now, if three schools bought the same packet of instructions, they would not have the same wall drawing. There are no instructions as to distance between lines, or length of the lines, or thickness - so even doing something repetitive gives a new image.

E4E, there is a story in Judaism that goes like this: when there was a grave issue facing his flock, the Rabbi would go into a secret place in the forest. There he would light a fire, and he would pray a special prayer, and God would help the people. After his death, the next Rabbi would go into the forest. But he forgot how to light the fire. So he would pray the special prayer, and God would help the people. And so the next Rabbi didn't know where the place was in the forest; and he couldn't light the fire, but he knew the special prayer, and God would help the people. And so it came to the next Rabbi. He didn't know the place, or even which forest. He couldn't light the fire. And he no longer knew the words to the prayer. But his intent was pure, and he knew that that would be enough. And it was. Buddhism tells us to not hold on to material things. The place to pray is still there, even though the Buddhas are not.

The Fat Lady Sings said...

I remember how no one lifted a finger to prevent their destruction; yet more was said about those Buddha’s than the deplorable condition of women under Taliban rule. And Bush just stood by and let all of it happen. He was President by then - he could have raised a stink - pressured Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to intervene, but he didn't. No one did. Then 9/11 happens and suddenly everyone gives a damn. You know - coupled with other red flags - this incident should have let Middle East analysts know that the Taliban were capable of anything. Sad. So sad.

Anonymous said...

It was very sad and even infuriating that these were destroyed, but I remember thinking at the time how sad (and infuriating) it was that the world was up in arms over this while nearly everyone remained silent about how the Taliban abused humans, in particular, women.

I would think Buddhists would be sad about this, too but see this as another example of impermanence and not expect them to be rebuilt. Just as the monks spend days creating a sand mandala only to destroy it. I hope they are not rebuilt but stand as a testament to the cruelty and stupidity of the Taliban. If people want to help a Buddhist cause, then I would hope they'd support Tibetans or something like that.

DivaJood said...

TFLS, you are right about what Bush COULD have done. However, I still believe he and his cronies were well aware of what was going to happen on 9/11, and this was just part of the plan.

Tree, the comparison to the sand mandalas is quite right - the impermanence of every material thing really does imply that they should not be rebuilt.