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‘Cave to the Canvas’ is the exploratory voyage through time, uncovering the earliest known oil painting technique of ‘Rogan Silk Art’. We follow the story from the Buddhist Monastic Sanctuaries of Bamiyan in 650 CE to the Qissa Khani Bazar of today, where the art has remained in the hands of the last Pakistani Artist, Fayyaz Ahmad. The Practice is a Meditative dance between the artisan, the oil and the silk, plant-based oils coloured with local ochres such as the powder of lapis lazuli, crushed eggshell and animal bone are used to adorn the fabrics.

In 2008 scientists from 'The National Research Institute for Cultural Properties of Tokyo (NRICP)' uncovered the first known oil-based painting on the cave walls of Bamiyan. Traces of resin, plant oils and ochres led researchers to envisage rooms similar to any modern-day artist's studio. This discovery took the birth of painting in oils back around 800 years from Europe to South Asia. The story of Rogan Silk Painting fills a gap in our knowledge of the arts and takes us on a journey that has its roots in Buddhism, Bamiyan and the Silk Roads through time to Islamic heritage. Cultural isolation of the Peshawari communities of Pakistan, has permitted Rogan Art to persist for us to now reveal and possibly revive it. This story fills an 800-year gap in our human knowledge of oil-based arts as we journey from the cave walls to a last artists canvas. 


UNESCO Appreciation

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Pictured above is the presentation of ‘Rogan Silk Art’ by resident artist Mr. Fayyaz Ahmad to Patricia McPhillips,  Representative of UNESCO to Afghanistan.

This picture captures a historical moment in time, it is a celebration and due appreciation of the dynamic Artisanal practice, that is Rogan (‘Oil’ in Persian) silk painting. The tradition is thought to have evolved from the Buddhist caves of Bamiyan in 650 CE Afghanistan, making it a tradition which has persevered through time along the ancient silk roads, representing monumental cultural significance between generations of artisanal practice. Mr.Ahmad is the last Rogan artist of his family, ending the eight generations of the craft. The Practice is said to be a meditative dance between the artisan, the oil and the silk and is reminiscent of the Buddhist practices on which it is said to be first discovered. Plant based oils are coloured with local orchres such as the powder of Lapis Lazuli, Crushed eggshell and animal bone which are used to adorn the fabric. This artistic technique has significant heritage value in its own right, but yet uncovering the genesis of this Art and its evolution from the Cave walls of Bamiyan to Mr.Ahmed's Silk Canvas in the Qissa Khani Bazar of Pakistan is of monumental importance to the history of Oil Painting. 

UNESCO firmly believe in the transformative power of living heritage practices and contemporary art forms as a means to build inclusive, resilient and innovative communities, embodying this ethos is  Patricia McPhilip’s, Representative of UNESCO to Afghanistan who is pictured here accepting her bespoke Artwork from Mr Ahmed. Where it is understood that Art becomes a cultural memory of vital information passed from generation to generation, this presentation of art is symbolic of the heritage knowledge of generations of Artisans during the height of the Silk Roads. Rogan is said to date back 1400 years and has the potential to fill a significant gap in our knowledge of Oil-based arts and our shared heritage, it is suggested that art in the times of Bamiyan was more than a pleasant pastime, that our distant ancestors indulged in, it was integral to their way of life and was emblematic of the political, social and cultural environment of the time. Similarly Mr. Ahmed’s presentation of Rogan to UNESCO’s Patricia McPhilips represents peaceful trade and connection through the arts.

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