Beneath the surface: bravery and beauty in Afghanistan

There is an Afghanistan beyond the headlines of war and atrocities, a place of anonymous heroes and wild beauty.

In 1991, Christopher Kremmer landed in Kabul for the first time. The Afghan countryside was in the grip of an Islamist insurgency, but the capital was quiet, and largely untouched by the war.

The impressions on a young correspondent were vivid, from meeting the country’s wily president, a man who was later executed by the Taliban, to flying low over the Bamiyan Buddhas. And, of course, browsing in the quiet carpet stores of a city where lifelong friends were made, and small treasures acquired.

For the next decade Kremmer was a frequent visitor, following the twists and turns of Afghanistan’s conflict. Struck by the stark beauty of the terrain, he found a landscape denuded, a human settlement abandoned or lost, but always, just beneath the ground, a surviving history of preposterous grandeur. And encountered a people, heroically struggling for survival, undaunted, irrepressibly optimistic, and proud.

This lecture forms part of the Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum Kabul lecture series held at the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Museum.