Japanese researchers have crafted a “super clone” of an Afghan mural destroyed by the Taliban, using a mix of traditional and digital techniques that they hope would salvage the work’s “spirit” for future generations.
Not a single fragment remains of the seventh-century cave painting demolished in 2001, along with two massive Buddha statues and other artefacts in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, sparking global condemnation.
However, a precise replica, the result of three years of state-of-the-art reproduction efforts, went on display at a museum in Tokyo in September and last month, just weeks after the Taliban returned to power in Kabul.
The mural on the ceiling of a cave near the famous statues depicted a blue Bodhisattva — or someone on the path to becoming a Buddha.
At 6m long and 3m high, the intricate full-size copy has been dubbed a “super clone” by the reproduction team at Tokyo University of the Arts.
“We have succeeded in recreating a very precise representation in three dimensions,” from its texture to the type of paint, team coleader Takashi Inoue said.
The team digitally processed more than 100 photographs taken by Japanese archeologists of the mural before it was desecrated, to create a computerized model of its surface.
They then fed these data into a machine, which carved the exact shape into a Styrofoam block.
To complete the replica, artists applied a traditional paint in a lapis lazuli shade similar to the one used for the original mural.
Through this process, “we can reproduce designs that are very close to the real ones again and again, to hand down their spirit to future generations,” said Inoue, a professor specialized in Eurasian cultural heritage.
For historian Kosaku Maeda, a coleader of the Tokyo reproduction team, the “massively shocking” images of the giant Buddhas disappearing into clouds of dust are still a vivid memory.
“I was worried that such an act would be inflicted on the remains once again,” said the 88-year-old, who has visited the valley repeatedly over more than 50 years.
However, their work shows that vandalism is “meaningless” in the face of modern technology, as “everything can be digitalized,” Maeda added.
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