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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 10:53 GMT
Art lover saved Kabul paintings
An Afghan man examines old pictures and unbroken artifacts at the national museum in Kabul
The Taleban destroyed much Afghan cultural heritage
By the BBC's Alan Johnston in Kabul

It has emerged that an Afghan art lover managed to save a cache of paintings that the Taleban were thought to have destroyed.

The Taleban regarded any depiction of a living creature as un-Islamic, and they were widely believed to have torn up nearly all the national gallery's works that showed human or animal figures.

But it is now clear that dozens of works were saved.
Posters on sale in a Kabul street
All images of the human form were banned
At the same time that the Taleban provoked outrage around the world by destroying Afghanistan's famous giant Buddha statues, they also turned their wrath on the country's art collection.

More than 100 of the national gallery's works depicting living images were singled out for destruction.

A large number were indeed torn up.

But it has now become apparent that an Afghan businessman and art lover, Sabir Latifi, managed to save up to 50 of the condemned works.

Smuggled by bike

At considerable personal risk, Mr Latifi bribed security officials overseeing the destruction of the art.

Under cover of darkness, the rolled up canvasses were smuggled out of the Taleban ministry of culture.

One of the giant buddha statues at Bamiyan before the Taleban destroyed them
The Taleban blew up Afghanistan's 1500 year-old buddha statues
They were then taken across Kabul on the back of a bicycle after dark to avoid arousing suspicion.

Among the works shown to the BBC were a range of oil paintings of the type that you might expect to find in any gallery around the world.

But the fact that they contained depictions of human beings made them wholly unacceptable to the Taleban.

Mr Latifi said that he took the risk of acting to save at least part of the national gallery's collection because he wanted to try to preserve something of Afghanistan's plundered heritage.

He says he is now ready to return the paintings to their rightful place in the gallery as soon as a new Afghan government is formed and security in Kabul is guaranteed.

The BBC's Alan Johnstone
"Works containing the human form were regarded as un-Islamic"
See also:

22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Fear and freedom in Kabul
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul goes film crazy
26 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan statues face destruction
12 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'destroy' priceless art
06 Oct 01 | South Asia
Kabul's faded vibrancy
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