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Blue Afghanistan


Blue is the color of my dreams, as Joan Mirò also expressed it in one of his paintings. Personally, I always go for basic blue pieces in my clothes, combined with some bright shades. The blue gentian fascinated me during mountain hikes in the Alps. I always dreamed of a coat, a gentian blue dress.

When I visited Band-e-Amir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Afghanistan in 2000, I was amazed at the play of colors in the six deep blue lakes. Band-e Amir is located in Bamyan where the Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. The story of ultramarine, the blue pigment, begins deep underground. Lapis lazuli today comes from mines in countries such as China and Chile, but the vast majority of the intense midnight blue stone used in the West for ultramarine pigment came from a single source until the 18th century: the Sar-e-Sang mines, deep in the folded mountains of Afghanistan, about 600 kilometers NE of Bamyan, Badakhshan province, where I lived for 3 years.

Lapis lazuli is often considered a semi-precious stone, but in reality it is a mixture of minerals. One photo illustrates work in the lapis lazuli mines in Badakhshan. This photo was taken by director Pieter-Jan de Pue who shot the documentary: The Land of the Enlightened and won first prize at the Sundance festival in 2016. The film can be viewed during the tour of the Kalpak.

The mantle of the oldest Buddha image was painted with ultramarine blue. The oldest examples of the use of lapis as a pigment are found in the seventh-century paintings from the cave of Bamyan. The frescoes in the caves have been restored, it is a unique experience to visit the caves.

In Kabul in Chicken Street, once one of the busiest antique markets in Central Asia, I bought a blue necklace with lapis lazuli stones and my Afghan employees gave me an illustration of Belgium, carved from the blue stone.

When starting up secondary schools in the Afghan refugee camps, we opted for blue uniforms in consultation with the school team. We cannot close a chapter on Afghanistan, Land of Blue - according to Victoria Finlay - without referring to the women with their sky blue burqas. The many Afghan women I met and the Afghan teachers radiated strength and creativity; so great that I devote a separate story to it.

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