08 Mar 2022
Three towering tapestries are about to take pride of place in New Plymouth’s premier contemporary art Gallery after being smuggled out of war-torn Afghanistan disguised as cushions.
Two weeks after the Taliban took Afghanistan fully into its grasp a Pashtun ‘People Trafficker’ received an unusual request - to leave the refuge of Pakistan and complete the now treacherous journey across the southern-border into Taliban-gripped Afghanistan, all for the sake of a cushion.
Unbeknownst to the driver the seemingly worthless cushion was hiding one of three large-scale tapestries by Australian-Afghan artist Khadim Ali valued at over several hundred thousand NZD.
Zara Stanhope director of New Zealand-based Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre contacted Ali in early 2021 to discuss exhibiting a suite of three new tapestries that were being created plus new carpets, based on Afghan war-rugs, to be made especially for the Gallery.
However, as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, people flooded airports and borders to escape. The artworks couldn’t make the voyage and were abandoned at a bus depot disguised as cushions. Ali arranged two high-stakes, costly journeys to retrieve the three large but incognito textiles. The first and largest, remained unscathed. However a second more tumultuous journey found the other two tapestries slashed by knives and bayonets. The two damaged works have now been repaired to their original imposing form by Ali’s assistants whose safety he also helped secure.
The three tapestries are about to be displayed in the exhibition There Is No Other Home But This at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre. They’ll be shown alongside other artworks by Ali, whose international star is on the rise, featuring in the collections of major museums including New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim and London’s British Museum.
Ali’s works depict the turbulent history of Persia, with strong themes of war and displacement, images all too personally familiar to the artist and his artisans.
Zara Stanhope has been working closely with Ali to bring the artworks to New Zealand. “We’ve gone from the delight of seeing images of the works being made to the distress of Khadim’s anguish for the safety of the artists working in his studio and the works themselves.”
“We’re beyond excited that these artworks are about to be seen for the first time in Aotearoa,” says Dr Stanhope. “This exhibition is going to be exceptional.”
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