• Talk & exhibition: Afghanistan and Empire

Talk & exhibition: Afghanistan and Empire

09 October 2014


Afghanistan and Empire: stories of British imperial adventure told through the Horniman's collection  

Afghan journalist Zia Shahreyar and historian Bijan Omrani will take us through a remarkable selection of the Horniman’s objects from Afghanistan and neighbouring areas of Pakistan. The earliest of these date from the last centuries BCE and the most recent are from the 1980s. Through them we can chart the course of many of the great cultures which once inhabited the region and gain insights into the diverse societies which live there now: stone bas-reliefs from the Gandharan civilisation show scenes from the Buddha’s life executed in a style heavily influenced by the Classical Greek cannon, elaborate costumes attest to the cosmopolitan life lead by Pashtuns in late nineteenth century Peshawar and a Kalasha funerary figure reminds us of religious diversity in a region which is today associated with extremism.

The majority of our objects came from the private collections of soldiers and administrators who were stationed on the border with Afghanistan or fought in one of the Anglo-Afghan wars. They reflect the different and at times contradictory ways in which Britain and British people understood Afghanistan and Afghans. The objects betray their collector’s fascination with the region where they were stationed and admiration for its people, but also an imperial and impersonal duty to control or suppress. Our war trophies in particular tell of decades of conflict between the British Empire and the tribesmen of Afghanistan, a situation which has sobering implications for the present day.

Zia Shahreyar has been BBC Persian Producer since 2009. Previously he was business news anchor and producer at Tolo Tv, the most popular private TV station in Afghanistan. He is also author of several economic and political articles concerning Afghanistan.

Bijan Omrani is the lead author of Afghanistan: A Companion and Guide, published by Odyssey books. He has written and lectured widely about the history of travel, governance and western engagement in Afghanistan.

Time: 7pm 

Venue: Horniman Museum, London 

Details here: http://www.horniman.ac.uk/visit/events/behind-the-scenes-at-the-horniman-afghanistan-and-empire From 6.30pm - 7pm, there will be a chance to examine the objects behind the scenes in the Horniman's Conservation lab before the talk.