AIC’s 39th Annual Meeting – General Session, June 1, “Restoring the Spirit and the Spirit of Restoration: Dresden’s Frauenkirche as Model for Bamiyan’s Buddhas” by James Janowski.

Big Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. Photo courtesy of Volker Thewalt.

Sometimes conservation is more than the technical care of an object.  Sometimes, the working solutions to treatment of cultural heritage must rely on judgments, choices, and values unique to a people and a time.  James Janowski raises many ethical and philosophical questions in his presentation on the possible reconstruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.  He asks his audience to balance the needs of the historical record with religious and cultural values.

The Bamiyan Buddha’s were located along the silk road in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan.  These statues were the largest likenesses of Buddha’s in the world.  They had survived past damage from soldiers, weather, and time.  They were true survivors.  All that ended with the 2001 acts of cultural barbarism by the Taliban.  The cruel and wanton destruction of the Buddhas have left us with empty niches.  But much of the original material is still located in the valley as fragments of all shapes and sizes.  Could the Buddhas be reconstructed from original and replacement materials?  Should they be reconstructed?

Janowski turns to the destruction and reconstruction of the Dresden Frauenkirche as a model for the Bamiyan Buddhas.  The Frauenkirche was the most original protestant church constructed in Dresden.  During World War Two, the allied bombing damaged the church. The subsequent fires reached 1000 degree Farenheit and caused the church to buckle and crumble.  The church was much beloved by the people of Dresden.  The ruin served as a symbol of the culture and community.

Beginning in 1989 and 1990 the people of Dresden called for the church to be rebuilt as an “archeological reconstruction.”  The reconstruction resulted in much debate, but the project was approved in March 1991.  The reconstruction continued until October 2005 when the church was re-consecrated.  Architectural stone and elements were salvaged from the rubble and carefully cataloged.  Forty-five percent of the reconstructed church was made from original stone

The reconstruction of the Dresden Frauenkirche was considered a rousing success.  The process recharged the community.  The original and non-original materials were clearly distinguishable, so as not to erase the historical events that took place.  In the end, the project was adjudication between competing values.

Janowski argues that the integral restoration of the Buddhas with remaining original fragments should be considered in the future despite the 30-50 million dollar price tag. He notes that there must be a balancing of the religious and cultural values with the historical documentation of the event.  He also offers consequential values.  The reconstruction will have economic and political value and can serve as a unifying thread to the country.  He feels that at least one of the Buddhas could be reconstructed leaving the other as a “witness” to the destruction.  Janowski believes that the meaning and values of a restored sculpture outweigh the shock of the empty niches.

Janowski pushes the audience to think outside the box.  He forces us to think through the steps ahead and the possibilities beyond the norm.  [Blogger’s note:  on March 11, 2011, UNESCO told the Afghan government it does not support a rebuild project, citing concerns over funding priorities and authenticity. ]