Gandhara Art: Berlin exhibits Swat’s artefacts to the world

Published: June 29, 2011
WAR-BOOTY: 70,000 artefacts were taken by the Russian soldiers in the second world war. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ

WAR-BOOTY: 70,000 artefacts were taken by the Russian soldiers in the second world war. PHOTO: FAZAL KHALIQ

BERLIN: The Museum of Asian Art in Berlin houses a special art collection from Multan, Nooristan and Sindh that have long been attracting visitors.

The museum, which houses more than 25,000 Asian artifacts and holds the collection of south, southeast and central Asian art, exhibits a special area for Gandhara art where intricate artifacts from the Swat Valley are displayed. It is also one of the largest museums of ancient Asian art and consists of works from fourth century BC.

“The present museum is the outcome of two museums: the Museum of Indian Art and Museum of East post-2006 Asian Art,” says Martina Stoye, curator of the south and southeast asian collections at the museum.

Stoye, who has also conducted a research on Gandhara Art, told The Express Tribune that the museum wanted to honour Asian art. “We just want to honour the art of Asia and to bring it to the level of European Art. We present it as a well-developed culture to the world and really want to protect this heritage. This is a sign of respect given to the people of other regions too,” she said.
“We have a large old collection of Gandhara Art. This is the collection of Laetner who travelled to the South Asian region and collected many objects. He spent twenty years in Lahore as well. He had displayed his collection (consisting of 500 pieces of Gandhara Art) at the biggest cultural exhibition of the world at Vienna in 1873 and later also displayed them at an exhibition in Florence. Through those exhibitions, the European public was acquainted with the Gandhara artefacts,” Stoye said.

When asked about how the Berlin museum acquired Laetner’s collection, Stoye said, “Laetner had opened a small private museum in Woking in southwest London with all Gandhara pieces but when he died, his widow wanted to sell all his belongings and she offered them to various museums.  At that time, the Berlin museum was very lucky to buy the entire Laetner collection which was in sound condition and had an interesting history.”

Talking about the different phases of the museum, she said, “The second World War was a very difficult time for museums in Berlin. During the war, curators were told to pack all the items and divide them into three categories in order of importance. So the very important objects were taken out of Berlin and buried, the less important ones were buried in Berlin while those in the third category were left in the museum,” she said.

Russian soldiers, Stoye said, had taken 70,000 objects as war-booty, including some of Gandhara artefacts. Negotiations are in process to get them back while some of them were brought back in the 19th century.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Hasman
    Jun 29, 2011 - 5:34AM

    This artifacts belongs to Pakistan and should be return back to the Pakistan. I hope the EU would give back those stolen materials.

    Government of Pakistan should demand the artifacts. Recommend

  • Hasman
    Jun 29, 2011 - 5:36AM

    Its belongs to Pakistan. Civilized EU should give it back to Pakistan. Recommend

  • Kanishka
    Jun 29, 2011 - 6:44AM

    Good that Europeans took it, atleast they were not defaced or broken….
    People of todays Gandhara dont need Buddhist artefacts.. they need ARAB artifacts :)….Recommend

  • RAI
    Jun 29, 2011 - 4:13PM

    @Hasman. if the artifacts came to Pakistan, the thieves of government will either waste it or sell it for their own pockets. it is good that they are in safe conditions and are exibits to the world by the name of Gandhara Art and with spcial privilege to the area they belong.Recommend

  • Shan
    Jun 29, 2011 - 4:37PM

    Those are the legal properties, bought or obtained by them by legal process. great workRecommend

  • Fazle Rabbi Rahi
    Jun 30, 2011 - 5:39AM

    All these artifacts are safe in Europe, but we are destroying our this valuable heritage.Recommend

  • Ziad
    Jun 30, 2011 - 9:01AM

    We are agree to Mr. Fazle Rabbi Rahi. At least Europe (Germany) is doing great job for preserving and exhibiting our heritage otherwise either we are destroying it or defacing it day by day.Recommend

  • Hazer Gul
    Jun 30, 2011 - 10:13AM

    It would be great if the same are return to its place of origin, the EU should support and capacitate the local authorities to take care of valuable cultural heritage. Recommend

  • Ziad
    Jun 30, 2011 - 12:36PM

    @ Hazer Gul. the artifacts in Berlin are in safe conditions. here in the museums it will be smuggled and sold and only its replica will be survived. they are okey there.Recommend

  • Hazer Gul
    Jun 30, 2011 - 4:20PM

    Ziad, than we have to shift all of our assets to Berlin. This is the time for us to organize our nation and teach them how to conserve and preserve the culture and cultural heritage. By the how the people in Berlin museum have got these artifacts? Recommend

  • Shan
    Jun 30, 2011 - 4:53PM

    This is really intersting to see that our heritage has been preserved by Germans and at least they are exhibiting it otherwise we are defacing everything of ours. great jobRecommend

  • Ziad
    Jul 1, 2011 - 9:24AM

    @Hazer Gul. if the international museums are exhibiting artifacts of some other regions so it means that they are legally own them. plus the artifacts of Gandhara civilization belonging to Swat valley have been obtained by Berlin Museum from Laetner collection who visited that area before the creation of Pakistan. that man has collected antiquities from different resources (bought from the local thieves).Recommend

  • Iain Wakeford
    Jul 4, 2011 - 12:32PM

    Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner collected the artefacts over many years in the later 19th century and exhibited them in a small museum he set up in the grounds of his ‘Oriental Institute’, a college in Woking, England, where his aim was to teach Europeans about the art and culture of the ‘east’, and also to act as a centre where Muslims and others could ‘feel at home’ whilst visiting the west. It was because of Leitner that Britain’s first Mosque was built in Woking. It is a shame that the artefacts were not retained in Woking after his death, but by being on display in Berlin they may. perhaps, forfill Leitner’s original intention and help to show people all over Europe the long and intersting culture of this important part of the world. Perhaps it would be a good idea if a museum in Pakistan were to exhibit a collection of artefacts from Germany (or Woking for that matter), so that they too can have a better understanding of other cultures!Recommend

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