AFGHANISTAN: NO CULTURAL DESERT
WHEN passengers in Mohammad Youssof Qawwam’s taxi find out he was born in Afghanistan, the majority of the time they assume he was raised in the desert.
“I tell them I don’t come from the desert but they don’t believe me,” Qawwam, who now lives in Forrest- field, said.
The academic was working for the government in the city of Herat when the Taliban seized control in 1994 and he fled overnight to Iran before moving to Kabul with his wife and young son 10 months later.
A relative in Australia started a sponsorship process and and his family moved to Australia in 1998.
Since March this year, Qawwam has been working in his role as Afghan Australian Cultural Association president to help source items from the local Afghan community to include in Western Australian Museum’s free exhibition, Local Treasures.
It is running concurrently with touring ticketed exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum Kabul and features a rich collection of ancient objects that were secretly hidden away for years by Kabul museum staff to prevent them from being casualties of war.
Among the ancient objects is an ivory leogryph bracket from the first century CE featuring a lion’s body for bravery, eagles’ wings for inspiration and parrot beak to speak the truth.
WA Museum curator Moya Smith said they wanted both exhibitions to make people rethink what they understood about Afghanistan, past and present.
“There is that perception that it’s just war because the stock image always played is a soldier behind a mud brick wall with the desert in the background,” Smith said.
“You don’t get that sense of those astounding mountains and river valleys... You don’t get that sense of real modern people.
“I think when people are so happy to lend something of themselves, that’s just very powerful.”
The exhibitions are showing until November 16.
Sands of time: Exhibition curator Dr Moya Smith with a 1949 illustrated Afghani encyclopedia and cultural association president Mohammad Youssof Qawwam with a hand-blown glass jar