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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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Timeline Timeline

Power Symbols

CIRCA 1923 CE
THEMES:

Identity & Perception

Traces & Narratives

Tradition & Modernization

Reveal Source

"Black Wolf, Cheyenne." Digital image. First People of America and Canada. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://www.firstpeople.us/.

Image1. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
ISAF, Cpl. Zachary Nola, and Regimental Combat Team-7, 1st Marine Division Public Affairs. "Http://www.flickr.com/photos/isafmedia/4085542826/." Digital image. Isafmedia's Flickr Photostream. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/isafmedia/4085542826/.
 
KES-225-1-H-136-1. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-693-A-62. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-765-A-134. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-769-A-138. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-815-A-184. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-849-A-218. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-934-A-303_1. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-938-A-307_1. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-938-A-307_1. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-939-A-308. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
KES-940-A-309_1. Khalilullah Enayat Seraj Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.
 
"Obama's Blackberry." Digital image. The Review Crew. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://www.thereviewcrew.com/news/obama-to-get-his-ultra-super-bionic-blackberry/.
 
Rolls Royce. RollsRoycemotors.com. Accessed September 4, 2010.
 
Sims, Brandi. "Crucifix." Digital image. House of Sims' Flickr Photostream. Accessed September 4, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/houseofsims/2350636791/. Creative Commons license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Producer: Kate Harding

 

Reveal Transcript

Power is visual. And the visual is power.

There are many ways to communicate power. And in the 1920s, King Amanullah understood that very well. He knew that if he could create a visual brand, then he could convey his authority more efficiently. Like governments and corporations today, he used symbols to consolidate his ideals and his power.

And in the era of photography, these symbols could be mediated at new speed.

For Amanullah, the visual signs of technology and clothing communicated so much more than speeches ever could. These symbols were used strategically to convey to his people that he was building a new kind of government for a new Afghanistan.

Even in a single meeting, Amanullah effectively communicated his new brand through this strategic use of symbols. This shot is of King Amanullah meeting with tribal delegates.

It’s interesting. In comparison with earlier shots that we have of his father and grandfather, also meeting with tribal delegates, one difference is that he is on the same level as the tribal delegates. If we look at some other shots, and again you have to be careful of drawing conclusions from a single photograph. But in other shots we have, we see the king up, elevated above his subjects. And Amanullah wanted to create a more of a citizenry as opposed to a king/subject relation, it was more of the king and his people, but on a more equal level. And I think it’s important in this photograph that we see him talking to people at the same eye level.

At the same time, we also see that he has got some of the accoutrements of power around him. And very modern accoutrements. If you look at the telephone that’s at his right hand, this is a relatively new invention in Afghanistan, and probably only connected to very few places within Kabul. It certainly didn’t go outside of Kabul. But it allowed him to communicate with other people in his court.

One imagines that it was more a symbol than it was a real instrument of communication. When push came to shove, I’m sure Amanullah communicated through couriers and through the traditional means. There was even one man in his court who was known as the Bubabark, who was the fastest runner that the king had been able to find, and he was the personal messenger of the king. So Bubabark means the father of electricity. But Amanullah, I think in this case, has that telephone by his side as a way of symbolizing his modernity and his association with what must have seen to those tribesmen, if they even knew what it was at all, it would have seemed like a symbol of the power of the king, not through guns, not through force or violence, but rather through the instruments of technology and modernity.

There are many ways to communicate power. The king understood this very well. He created a visual brand and conveyed his authority efficiently in the era of photography and global media.

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