The Bamiyan Buddhas—a pair of monumental statues carved into a cliff in what is now central Afghanistan—were created by one of the most vibrant Buddhist cultures that arose in central Asia under a succession of Asian empires. The Bamiyan Valley lay on the Silk Road and was a prosperous Buddhist community from the 2nd to the 8th century. Sculptors carved the Buddhas into the cliff between the 4th to 6th century, during the Kushana Empire. They are an example of Gandharan art, which takes inspiration from Indian and central Asian culture as well as Greek culture, an enduring legacy of Alexander the Great’s invasions (around 327 BCE). The Chinese pilgrim and explorer Xuanzang (602–664) described thriving communities of monks from Mahayana and non-Mahayana traditions who lived in vast networks of caves in Bamiyan.
Lida Abdul’s film Clapping with Stones (2005) explores Afghan resistance to the ongoing geopolitical and religious conflicts that have devastated their country in recent times. Beginning in 1979, Afghanistan became embroiled in armed conflicts involving the Soviet Union, local Islamic mujahideen rebels backed by the United States, and Islamic nations including Pakistan. In the chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal, one notoriously fundamentalist mujahideen faction seized power in 1996: the Taliban. In 2001 they deemed the Bamiyan Buddhas contrary to Islam and ordered their destruction, an act that was condemned internationally. Many local residents of Bamiyan were enlisted against their will in this act of sacrilege. The video depicts men in traditional shalwar kameez performing a ritual involving clapping stones together. The artist explores a reimagined conceptualization of a pre-Islamic mourning ritual as an act of protest against the destruction of this ancient heritage.
Come view our Art of the Week in the exhibition Clapping with Stones: Art and Acts of Resistance.