Islamic Visual Arts In Afghanistan Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Afghanistan has been the country that has inspired the traveler, adventurers and writers for several centuries. The country once named the heart of Asia has closeness to Indian subcontinent, central Asia, and Middle East has influenced the art and it has something from each religion.

Afghanistan has been around for thousand years. Each part of the country has its uniqueness and differences and sometimes it difficult to compare one part with the other part.

The local art is inspired from Greco-Buddhist art which is called Gandhara art from 1st - 7th century. In 20th century, Afghan artists started using western elements in their art. The Afghan Islamic art was solely practiced by men and in the modern era, women are entering the arena as well.

The other forms arts which are practiced usually in Afghanistan are the carpet weaving and poetry. The Afghan carpet is well known in the world for its uniqueness and quality. Poetry has been a cultural tradition and passion for Afghans. In addition, many great poets were from Afghanistan such as Omar Khayaam, Jami, Khawja Abdullah Ansari, Roumi and others.

Afghans have been very active part of the world in architecture. Recently UNESCO has registered the Minerate of Jam and the home of Buddha as world heritage. Many other signs of great architecture can be found in Herat, Mazar and Ghazni provinces of Afghanistan.


The excavations in Afghanistan have resulted in finding sites of Bronze and Iron Age 3000 - 2000 BEC near Kandahar city. In the start of the 3rd millennium BCE, the building of monuments and towns with highly defensive walls in the strategic locations were already in place.

The ruins of old cities found in Ai Khanum near Tajikistan border proves usage of Hellenistic architecture, in the same time it proves the conquest of Alexander the Great. After the Khushana period which is the one of the major contributors to Afghan heritage, is the Buddhism era. Buddhist established itself as the dominant religion in the country. The Buddha statues of this period is high quality and is perceived is important piece of artwork. The examples of the Buddhism ear can be found in Bamyan valley in central Afghanistan where the two giant statue of Buddha was destroyed by Taliban and there are many caves and pictures of Buddha.

Figure Pre-Islamic Art - Statue of Buddha in BamyanThe following picture shows the picture of male Buddha. Courtesy of\Users\Admin\Desktop\Af20.BamyanMainBuddha.jpg

Figure Early Islamic Building - Baghlan MosqueIt was the 9th century went the Islam came to Afghanistan and the Islamic art flourished. The oldest Islamic building in Afghanistan is the Mosque of Balkh where you can find the unique style and craftsmanship of Islamic era. The following picture shows Baghlan mosque, courtesy of Ana Rodriguez.C:\Users\Admin\Desktop\38_-1481_40.png

The Islamic art flourished in the country for centuries. The establishment of Ghazni as the center for art and administrations and other examples of Islamic art. Such examples has been mentioned in many books,

"The eventful historical invasions of the earlier era in Afghanistan have left behind some unprecedented marks in the form of great architectural landmarks. These marvelous edifices are adorned with carved paintings and sculptures which creates a wonderful splendor worth watching. Some of its landscape architecture has been widely recognized world wide and have been given the status of U.N.E.S.C.O heritage site. The most prominent ones being 'the Minaret of Jam' and 'the Valley of Bamiyan', others include the famous heritage spots situated in the cities of Ghazni, Herat and Mazari Sharif. The rich heritage of Afghanistan has been under the influence of Greeks, Mongolian, Chinese, Indian, Russian and even British which has well modified the cultural aspect of the country in every form. During the reign of Alexander the great, the northwestern city of Heart became a center for Persian art and learning. To the dismay of many, the rich heritage sites of Afghanistan have been destroyed as a result of ongoing political instability and military war." (Salarzai)

By pen pointing the background of pre-Islamic and Islamic art and architecture through centuries in Afghanistan, we come to believe that introduction of Islamic visual arts such as calligraphy, arabesques and vegetal patterns to local artists in Afghanistan has resulted in enriching the arts, creating more jobs and encouraged people to focus on arts as a passion and a way of survival. The local artists were doing their job, but the only difference in the Islamic period was that they were doing the job for a Muslim leader. In Afghanistan, the Muslim kings established many monuments, Warwick Ball mentions in his book "The Monuments of Afghanistan" that "the difficulty in making the following selection [sites/monuments] has not been in what to include, but in what to leave out!" (Ball 146). It is worth mentioning to point out most of the major monuments from the start of Islamic period in Afghanistan. The Balkh is mentioned very proudly in each page of the history, even in Islamic period, it was called the mother of cities and up to the Mongol period it was one of the best urban centers of Central Asia, despite its importance in that period, Balkh has never found its importance back and most of the archeologists worked hard on each sites,

Figure Balkh - Early Islamic PeriodThe following picture is from Balkh province, courtesy of (Nawroz) C:\Users\Admin\Desktop\Walls of Balkh.jpg

as per Mr. Ball, "… however, Balkh has always proved frustrating for archeologists. It was extensively surveyed by offices of ABC in 1886 and then became virtually the first site to be studied properly by the newly opened DAF." (Ball 158)

Furthermore, Ghazni province of Afghanistan is well-known for its monuments and history. Being the summer capital of Ghaznavid Empire, can simple explain the importance of the city. During the reign of Sultan Sebuktigin and Sultan Mahmud, the art and poetry flourished and most of the key poets, philosophies, and writers were gathered in the city and it can definitely influence the people and the next generations.

Figure Ghazni - Ghaznavid era

Figure Ruins of Early Islamic period - Balkh

The above picture is from Ghazni province and it clearly includes the main Islamic artistic figures such as calligraphy, arabesques and vegetal patterns, courtesy of (Nawroz)

Despite the continuous war in Afghanistan and despite many limitations on the progression of art in Afghanistan, the Afghan new generation is looking forward to art as a valuable and important thing and most of the young generation is accepting art as way of survival and as a way of life. The Afghan modern art is much more influenced by western (European) artists. Once I wrote in one of my papers that, in the country that the people are looking after food for survival and the people are trying to feed their children, nobody cares about art. And if a nation does not value the arts, then we can not call that nation civilized. During the past regimes in Afghanistan, I witnessed that the art is dying, it was frustrating for me to see the artist in the worse situation ever. But, recently it has changed. You can find many good artists in Kabul and provinces that are working in specialized fieds and they are have outstanding artwork. Once I visited a gallery in Kabul, the owner told me, "each time an artist bring a just-completed painting to the gallery, we are always stunned by the beauty they produce in war-torn Kabul." And when I saw the beauty and the neatness, I was stunned too.

The following picture is from the Bamyan Art Gallery, it shows the Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghans.

Figure National Sport of Afghans - BuzkashiC:\Users\Admin\Desktop\Buzkashi-3-riders.jpg

Or you can see the dancing of the colors:

Figure Dancing of the colors - Afghan Modren ArtC:\Users\Admin\Desktop\Dance-of-the-Colors.JPG

It always please us to see the people in war-torn Afghanistan is looking towards the art as a passion and way of life.