“Catalogue of the National Museum of Afghanistan”: recording and illustrating key objects in the Kabul Museum

Unesco has published a record of the 1,600 objects acquired by the institution between 1931 and 1985


Unesco has just published the “Catalogue of the National Museum of Afghanistan”, written by a sprightly 90-year-old scholar. Francine Tissot who worked extensively in Afghanistan in the 1970s and was a curator at the Guimet Museum in Paris for 30 years. Her 540-page volume records and illustrates 1,600 key objects which were acquired by the Kabul Museum from 1931 to 1985. An appendix also illustrates three important Buddhist carved reliefs which were seized by Afghan customs in 1976-7, and are now missing.

The Kabul Museum was devastated by the political instability that enveloped the country after the 1979 Soviet invasion. Since then its collection has been looted on a series of occasions and then suffered from mindless destruction by Taliban militants in March 2001. The museum eventually reopened in September 2004 in the Kabul suburb of Darulaman, after a full renovation.

Unfortunately, Ms Tissot’s catalogue, the first publication on the museum since the 1970s, when Afghanistan’s political problems began, does not distinguish between what was saved and what has been lost, but it does provide an invaluable record. Once the Kabul Museum has completed a full inventory, hopefully details will be circulated of items in the Tissot catalogue which have disappeared.

o Francine Tissot, “Catalogue of the National Museum of Afghanistan 1931-1985” is published by Unesco at €25 (ISBN 10:92-3-104030-8).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Catalogue for Kabul Museum'