St John Simpson, Exhibition Curator
On 22 February 2011, we began a week of previews for the exhibition, including a communities day for groups we regularly engage with through exhibitions such as this. We had a very good turn-out from members of the Afghan community in London for whom this was a very special event. Omer Sultan, the visiting deputy Minister for Culture and Information in Afghanistan, led a special tour of the exhibition and it was touching to see and hear comments from young Afghans who had never seen such items before or believed they would see their country’s treasures in London.
This event was followed by back-to-back press interviews with a special press release about the Begram ivories and a press launch for the exhibition. During this time we had over 200 media organisations represented, including print, radio, TV and web, and the coverage has already been global and very positive.
Once the last reporters had left, the final stages of preparations were made for the official opening of the exhibition on 1 March. Well over a thousand invitations had been sent out months in advance but the organisation of the speeches was kept a surprise until the last minute. While the guests were assembling, President Hamid Karzai and William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, arrived at the British Museum and were greeted by the director Neil MacGregor, who led them into the exhibition on a special preview. The delegation also included members of the Afghan Ulema and Sir William Patey, the British ambassador to Afghanistan who has been a great supporter of this exhibition.
The following evening was reserved for the exhibition supporters Bank of America Merrill Lynch and another was given to the Patrons of the British Museum and on 3 March the exhibition opened to the public – the culmination of four years of planning.
The work isn’t finished though. Throughout the next four months that the exhibition is open we have a very varied public programme. It begins next weekend (12 – 13 March) with a two-day conference with papers given by some of the world’s specialists on ancient Afghanistan and its connections with the ancient world. There are some exciting surprises in store for anyone who wants to attend, including how the wonderful glass fish from Begram were made or where Alexander the Great met his future wife Roxane.