Perspectives – a workshop and two exhibitions at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Kabul University

The exhibition of Andreas Theurer (Extracts)

“Does this ravaged country need no other things than art?” the German sculptor Andreas Theurer asked as I suggested he prepare an exhibition and holds a workshop at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Kabul. “No”, was my reply and I described the enthusiasm and gleaming eyes of the members of the Faculty when we discussed this project for the first time. A dialogue should take place, one which until now, could not take place in this forgotten part of the world: in a country where lawlessness and anarchy had supplanted order for decades and where social conflicts were typically solved with weapons - in a country with no place for civil or cultural interests and in which everything is dominated by an overwhelming “Islamisation.” This intemperate misappropriation of a once proudly tolerant religion - and country - is the sad and fearsome inheritance of decades of internecine Modjahedin rule promulgated by jihad, which had coalesced and fueled its support to a fiery climax to counter an invasion by whom Afghan religious zealots had called ‘godless” Soviets. Few Afghans can still recall a time when the religious passions of a few did not define politics, civil institutions, education and expressions of art through the barrel of a gun.

To give the treaty of Petersburg of December 2001 a chance, it is necessary to strengthen the civil sector, as well as the humanitarian aid and rebuilding. An exhibition of artists from a foreign country like Germany could support the development of a pluralistic society. Rebuilding the infrastructure of Afghanistan must concern itself with more than just the renovation of the external dimensions of its shattered edifices; it must also rejuvenate the contents of the institutions themselves. Bricks and mortar only describe the setting, the human activity within these walls defines the potential for a civil society. Within the reopened space of the Faculty of Art lingers the pulsating potential for a vital, vibrant exchange of ideas and images: this is the goal of art.

The purpose of the exhibition and workshop titled Perspectives was to initiate a dialogue with Afghan artists and citizens, unfamiliar paintings and sculpture hopefully leading to discussions about viewpoints, differences in cultural and individual backgrounds and future possibilities. We deliberately chose an artist - Andreas Theurer - whose work is neither decorative nor figurative, but who is experienced in handling historical moments. An example is his monument in honor of the lawyer Wirth, who convoked in 1832 an assembly at the ruins of the ancient castle Hambach in Germany. More than 30,000 people assembled and inveighed against “the rule of the sovereigns and the reactionary powers” at this time. They demanded the “United States of Germany” and called for the “European Confederation”. The translation of this project parallels Afghanistan with its warlords, disunity and lack of a civil rights codex. Associations lead to the Petersberger treatment and the assembly of Hambach, both of them a symbol for a better and fairer future.

The exhibition opening was well attended with more than 500 visitors on the first day. The visitors viewed over 30 sculptures exhibited in the freshly painted corridors of the Faculty with amazement and astonishment. These partly monumental sculptures in stone, bronze and wood, cubic and geometric forms in distorted perspective and figures vaguely resembling the human shape, stunned and surprised the younger students most of all. They eagerly and quizzically queried the German sculptor and his assistant. Was it helplessness? Or, was the desire for figurative art after the long restrictions and prohibitions that strong? It was an enormous challenge that required a lot of energy and mutual tolerance.


Clearly, Andreas Theurer`s formal complexity and his rigorous deconstruction of literal form was a radical departure from his audience’s experience of a more narrative-based figuration. His ease and confidence with his materials; sometimes precise, compressed and distilled to the essence of an idea in his smaller works, while in other sculptures his hand is epic, abstract yet metaphorical, roughly torn from life itself but provocatively concrete. His work seemed to both mystify and hypnotize his young viewers. This was their first glimpse of what must have been called ‘decadent’ western art, especially compared to the vocabulary of ‘social realism’ and some seemed to be caught completely off guard, searching for a new aesthetic vocabulary to describe this often alien experience. Andreas Theurer’s departure from norms of conventional abstract art was emphasized in his miniature metal sculptures that evoked familiar glimpses of ancient temples and places of worship consonant with the Afghan art students’ memories of pilastered mosques, or pictures from art book primers of Greek and Roman architecture. The movement of the powerful Afghan sun penetrated the art gallery, drawing emphasis to the shafts of light shifting through the small metal edifices, which were erected high enough on makeshift white brick stands to catch the rays and refract them at odd angles across the corridors. The effect was often incandescent. Doubtlessly, any reluctance Andreas Theurer must have felt about the efficacy of the installation or indeed, the sheer improbability of an exhibition of his work in remote Kabul must have melted away in an epiphany at this very instant, as children and adults alike eagerly and joyfully committed fully to his novel vision. The crowd moved from one installation to the next impatiently hoping to capture the shifting waves of radiance as their eyes focused on his diminutive, suspended temples glowing from the heat of the windows.

The larger works, monumental in size and form, were distributed throughout the crossroads of the corridors, thus appearing at times as mute guardians directing traffic throughout the gallery. There was a palpable sense of antiquity to these gargantuans, as if the features had been roughly carved and left striated by the artist to simulate the wear of time, or aged by countless generations of hands touching a civic or public totem. Featureless headless, handless, expressionless - or with just minor suggestions of same - one could not help but to see them - in the context of these times in Afghanistan - as a rebuke and aide memoire to the fallen Buddha statuary that Theurer’s sculptures evocatively might recall. It was these haunting cloaked figures, especially those installed in solitary, isolated hallways that were most powerfully appealing. These sentries, often set in windowless walkways, some barely lighted by greenish ancient fluorescent lamps, appeared to be primeval patrols from the underworld, escapees from a silent UFA expressionist film by F.W. Murnau or Fritz Lang. The perception of these figures is suspended between figurative and abstract, allowing the spectator to complete the semantic complexity of the sculptures. For all the exhibits eclecticism, with the ruggedly precise little statuary on pedestals in the bright narrow halls, and the more traditionally framed prints, the most memorable impression is of these large foreboding yet inviting sculptures in these long corridors, these were the sine qua non of the exhibit. Certainly, this self-assured diversity of size, form, subject matter, scale and materials demonstrated Andreas Theurer’s depth of talent, and suggested that he was willing to challenge his audience. In every respect, this was a show of remarkable weight and authority - and passion.

Extracts from: Katalog „Perspectives“
Idea and conception: Michael Pohly
Publisher: Friedrich Ebert Foundation
Editor: John Robert Kelly, Michael Pohly
Translation: John Robert Kelly, Jacob Jan Scholtz