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Bamiyan: Images of a distant valley

Bamiyan (the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart)

Published on 9 April 2010

Author(s): Globe and Mail-James Bradshaw

Type:  Exibition

An exhibition called Bamiyan (the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart) is held at at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum and continues until May 2

For most, the dominant image of central Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley is the 2001 Taliban bombing of a pair of 53-metre-tall, fifth-century stone Buddhas. But the cultural erosion of the area has been much more widespread, as a pair of artists are determined to show. Near where the statues stood is a network of cliffside caves. Some have elaborate, centuries-old carvings across walls and ceilings that have been covered by a blanket of dusty shoeprints where Taliban soldiers threw their footwear at the walls in an act of defiant graffiti. It is a powerful example of the uneasy juxtaposition of culture, degradation and hope documented on a three-week trip to the valley in 2008 by Vancouver-based artist Jayce Salloum and Khadim Ali, a Hazara artist from Afghanistan, raised in Pakistan and living in Australia. The pair returned with a collage of photographs, paintings and video installations to form an exhibition titled Bamiyan (the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart).

The exhibition is tucked away in a small room between the rotunda and the dinosaurs at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum. Dozens of images are organized in thematic clusters: a wall of portraits of local school children sits just a few feet from a bank of shots of rusted-out tanks. The cavernous silhouettes where the famous Buddha statues once stood act as a recurring, unifying symbol throughout the show. Bamiyanalso focuses on the marginalized and persecuted Hazara population of the nearby town, who proudly believe they are descended from the labourers who carved the statues. Their living conditions are primitive, but they remain deeply preoccupied with “how knowledge is produced and reproduced,” Salloum says.

“There’s a feeling of security and gentleness in the Hazara community that you don’t feel walking through the other neighbourhoods,” Salloum says. “People are very curious, they’re very into learning.” In one video, a man sings passages from The Shahnama (the “Letter for the King”), a famous epic poem of 60,000 verses written in the 10th century. Storytelling was the local population’s entertainment, Ali explains, but is “gradually vanishing” amid the chaos of war and occupation.

Bamiyan (the heart that has no love/pain/generosity is not a heart) continues at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum until May 2.

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