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STUFF | Three tapestries smuggled out of Afghanistan are part of a new exhibition at New Plymouth Govett Brewster Art Gallery

Helen Harvey 05:45, Mar 12 2022

They have been knifed, disguised and abandoned, and now three towering tapestries successfully smuggled out of Afghanistan as the Taliban took over are on display in New Plymouth.

The works, which are five, eight and nine metres tall, are part of an exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (GBAG)/Len Lye Centre.

Artist Khadim Ali, whose family come from Bamiyan in Afghanistan, is part of an ethnic minority called the Hazara people who have been persecuted for many centuries in that area, so he grew up in Pakistan, director and curator Zara Stanhope said.

Ali, who now lives in Australia, also works collaboratively with Hazara artisans to create textiles.

The largest of the three depicts the Australian bush fires and includes angels with fire extinguishers.

As the Taliban closed its grip on the country last year, Ali’s artisans disguised the tapestries in cushions, but had to and abandon them in order to flee to safety in Pakistan.

After weeks of negotiating, bribing and several anxious trips back across the tightly patrolled border, all three of the tapestries were recovered, although two were severely damaged by knives and bayonets when members of the Taliban slashed the cushions to see what was inside.

The damaged works have been repaired and take pride of place in GBAG’s new exhibition, which opened on March 5 and runs until June 19.

It is the first time works by Ali have been shown in New Zealand, and it includes around 20 pieces, including new textiles made for the exhibition, Stanhope said.

Khadim Ali has a growing international reputation, with works on display in New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the British Museum, London.

‘’It was really generous of him to say he was excited to have his first exhibition in Aotearoa in the Govett Brewster.’’

Stanhope, who has been at the Gallery for a year, said it took eight months to put the exhibition together.

The tapestries will be shown alongside art works by Wellington-based artist Areez Katki.

One of the new pieces is an animation projected on to a white carpet.

It looks at the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, two giant statues that were carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the 6th century, but were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Stanhope said the animation brings the story up to date “with people leaving Kabul on helicopters and an airliner’’.