Japanese researchers have created a “superclone” of an Afghan mural destroyed by the Taliban, using a mix of traditional and digital techniques that they hope will save the “spirit” of the work for future generations.
Not a single fragment is left of the cave painting from the seventh century, which was demolished in 2001 along with two massive Buddha statues and other artifacts in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, triggering global condemnation.
But an exact copy, the result of three years of advanced reproduction efforts, was displayed at a museum in Tokyo in September and October, just weeks after the Taliban returned to power in Kabul.
The mural in the ceiling of a cave near the famous statues depicted a blue Bodhisattva – or someone on their way to becoming a Buddha.
With six meters long and three meters high (20 by 10 feet), the intricate full-size copy has been dubbed a “superclone” by the reproduction team at Tokyo University of the Arts.
“We have managed to recreate a very accurate representation in three dimensions,” from its texture to the type of paint, said team leader Takashi Inoue.
Japan is a major donor to Afghanistan and has long been involved in efforts to protect the heritage of Bamiyan, a crossroads between ancient civilizations that is considered one of the birthplaces of Japanese Buddhism.
The team digitally processed more than 100 photographs taken by Japanese archaeologists of the mural before it was desecrated, to create a computerized model of its surface.
They then entered this data into a machine which cut the exact shape into a styrofoam block.
To complete the replica, artists applied a traditional paint in a lapis lazuli shade similar to that used for the original mural.
Through this process, “we can reproduce designs that are very close to the real ones over and over again, to pass on their spirit to future generations,” said Inoue, a professor specializing in Eurasian cultural heritage.
“Let’s stop vandalism. Let’s preserve invaluable culture – the heritage of humanity – together.”
– ‘Everything can be digitized’ –
Days before the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in August, the Taliban overran Kabul, triggering fears of a return to their brutal reign from 1996 to 2001.
The new regime insists it wants to protect the archaeological heritage from destruction.
For historian Kosaku Maeda, a co-leader of Tokyo’s reproduction team, the “massively shocking” images of the giant Buddhas disappearing in clouds of dust are still a living memory.
“I was worried that such an act would be inflicted on the remains again,” said the 88-year-old, who has visited the valley repeatedly for more than half a century.
But their work shows that vandalism is “meaningless” in the light of modern technology, as “everything can be digitized,” he said.
During a recent visit to Bamiyan by AFP journalists, armed Taliban men guarded the rock caves that once housed the two Buddha statues.
Construction of a $ 20 million UNESCO-backed cultural center and museum was still underway in Bamiyan when the AFP team visited the area in October – though its planned inauguration this year was delayed by the Taliban’s takeover.
Maeda said his dream is to build a separate “peace museum” in the valley and, if possible, display that replica cave painting there.
“We can not put it back in its original place, but I want to bring it to Bamiyan as a historical heritage that the locals can inherit,” said Maeda, who is also a member of the UNESCO Committee on the Protection of Afghan Cultural Heritage.
“A nation remains alive when its culture remains alive,” he added, reciting the message written on a banner hung at the entrance to Afghanistan’s National Museum in Kabul.
si / kaf / ser