14 Nov 2018

Auratic Endurance: The “Colossal Idols” of Bamiyan

Paper presentation at Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) San Jose, CA, November 14–18, 2018. Panel title: “Variations on Endurance”.

Aditi Saraf


My paper examines dominant narratives around the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001 alongside descriptions and representations of the “colossal idols” in nineteenth century expeditionary travelogues. The global discourse around the destruction of these figures under Taliban rule tended to pit ‘Islamist’ violence and iconoclasm against the preservation of ‘universal’ values of art and heritage (Flood 2002). In the colonial travelogues that set out to survey and record the putatively “blank space” of the high frontier between South and Central Asia, these idols appear to be neither adored as heritage nor perceived solely through the lens of iconoclasm. Instead, such accounts are replete with accretive myths, speculations and stories about the ancient statues and their origin, testifying to the rich multiplicity of frontier encounters that were congealed in these images and their surroundings. Engaging the desires and ambiguities materialized in these figures, both in colonial travel writing as well as in contemporary accounts of mourning and commemoration (Hussaini 2012), I track how counter hegemonic forms of knowledge, hierarchy, and the accommodation of strangers and strange objects may endure in the frontier borderlands. In doing so, I probe the methodological usefulness of the concept of endurance to think with the auratic presence of absent figures and ponder practices of place-making on a long frontier that does not exist as it once did.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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