Five years after having its face blown off, a sculpture of Buddha in Pakistan is getting some reconstructive surgery. When the Taliban invaded the Swat Valley they inserted explosives into holes drilled through the face of the 1,500-year-old carving of the Buddha, which they considered heretical to Islam. The blasts destroyed most of the face above the lips. Luca Olivieri, head of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan, and his team are now focused on restoring the six-metre sculpture.
“There is a sense of heroism attached to conservation and preservation—the idea of putting it back together again,” says Deepali Dewan, senior curator of South Asian visual culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. A perfect reconstruction of the face is impossible—parts of it are missing, and no blueprint of the carving exists.
But to Dewan, the attention brought to these treasures is about politics, not theology or culture: “There are lots of things that museums try to put back together. Why this particular Buddha?” she asks. “Is the restoration project just giving more visibility to the Taliban’s actions? I don’t know.”