Afghanistan and the loss of a left foot: Get back to where you once belonged

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Fri Aug 22 15:02:43 MDT 2003

War takes toll on cultural properties, too

An exhibition with an explicit message, as evident from its
title-``Recovering Missing Treasures of Afghanistan and Iraq''-is now being
held. I visited the show that runs through Sunday at the Mitsukoshi
Department Store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi. (Afterward, it will tour Osaka,
Hiroshima and Fukuoka.)

The exhibition has a subtitle: ``Urgent Appeal From Ikuo Hirayama.''
Hirayama, a well-known painter, refers to cultural properties lost in a war
and other conflicts as ``cultural refugees,'' and the subtitle represents
his wish to rescue ``refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.'' Among the items
on display are cultural artifacts that were smuggled out of Afghanistan and
collected in Japan. There is also a display of Hirayama's artworks drawn in
the two countries.

I was drawn to a foot carved in marble-a left ankle with the rear half
missing, to be exact. I learned that what was officially known as ``The Left
Foot of Zeus'' dated back to the third century B.C. It was excavated in the
Ai Khanum ruins of northern Afghanistan in 1968. The foot seems to have
measured about 50 centimeters lengthwise before its rear half broke off. A
brief explanation says the statue of Zeus itself was probably 3 to 4 meters
tall. I imagined what such a statue of Zeus would be like, and then it
appeared to me that everlasting time was pulsating in the numerous cracks
cut into the foot and the powerfully sculptured toes of Zeus.

The foot represents the best flowering of Hellenic culture brought to Asia
by Alexander the Great. The treasure, from the Kabul Museum, vanished during
the Afghan civil war. Three years ago, a Japanese antique art dealer bought
it and donated it to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO). Its safekeeping is the concern of the Japan Committee
for Recovering Missing Cultural Properties. The catalogue for the exhibition
bears a message from Kosaku Maeda, a professor emeritus at Wako University:
``When the Left Foot of Zeus returns to Afghanistan, we will take it as
evidence that peace has taken hold in the country, a mountainous motherland
of cultural refugees.''

I fervently hope the time will come promptly to permit the wandering
masterpiece to set foot in the soil of Afghanistan, long known as the
crossroads of civilizations.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16 (IHT/Asahi: August 20,2003)


More information about the Marxism mailing list