Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Central and North Asia, 1900 A.D.–present

Eastern Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
China (Xinjiang Province)
Muhammadzai dynasty of Kabul, 1826–1919
Independent Afghan monarchy, 1919–73
Republic of Afghanistan, 1973–present
Russian protectorate, 1868–1920
USSR, 1920–91
Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, 1991–present
Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, 1955–present
Dependency of Manchu (Qing) China, 1611–1911
Republic of China, 1912–21
Republic of Mongolia, 1921–present


Encompasses present-day Afghanistan, China (Xinjiang Province), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, eastern Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Supplemental Maps

Russia's conquest of Central Asia ends in 1885. This finalizes the establishment of czarist Russia's southern borders. This region is unified under the name of the "Turkestan Government-General" with Tashkent as its capital and Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufman (1818–1882) as its first governor. Until World War I, Turkestan is governed by a civil bureaucracy modeled on that of Russia. Although Russified, it retains its Islamic system of jurisdiction, education, and local administration. The Russians are relatively benevolent colonizers and do not interfere significantly in local religious practices. The main spheres of change under the Russians, however, include the economy and infrastructure. The region is increasingly used as a market for Russian industrial products and a supplier of raw materials, particularly cotton. Trade with Russia has its consequences. Local crafts now have to compete with Russian trade goods, diminishing their popularity and marketability. Crafts, such as metalwork (2008.579.3), woodwork, weaving, and embroidery are altered to suit export and thus craftsmen do not take the same care in producing objects as before, leading to a decline in quality.

After the fall of the Russian czarist monarchy in February 1917, city governments and executive committees are set up as organs of the Provisional Government of Russia. Shortly after, political authority falls into the hands of the councils of workers' and soldiers' deputies. The Muslims of Central Asia do not really participate in the revolutionary events. In Turkestan in 1919, the power of the soviets (councils) is concentrated in Tashkent and hardly penetrates other areas, but eventually Moscow takes firmer control of the greater region, instituting a socialist order and new policies. By the 1920s, the khanate of Khiva and emirate of Bukhara come under Soviet control and Turkestan becomes an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic governed by a totalitarian ideology. In 1928, Stalin imposes the First Five-Year Plan: collectivization of agriculture, mechanization of the cultivation of cotton, industrialization, and the exploitation of natural resources. After the 1920s, atheism is imposed, mosques and religious schools are closed, courts secularized, religious foundations confiscated, and veiling actively discouraged. The Arabic script is replaced first by the Latin script and subsequently by the Cyrillic alphabet in 1940. Meanwhile, the Russians make serious attempts to battle illiteracy and improve health and hygiene. In the 1940s and '50s, Soviet scholars, linguists, anthropologists, and ethnographers conduct research in the traditional arts, languages and folk traditions of Central Asia. The Soviets also devote significant attention to the preservation of architectural monuments and historical sites. The traditional crafts of the region, which had undergone significant changes under the czarist regime, are further transformed under the Soviets. Craftsmen are now workers and craft guilds become professional unions. With the introduction of modern machinery and equipment, the professional unions are eventually converted to factories. The result is a compromise in the delicacy, refinement, and quality associated with the crafts of the region.

The October Revolution of 1917 radically affects the arts of the region and by the mid-1920s, the new Soviet art overshadows anything that came before. The subject of this art is the dynamic of change under the new regime. Art is used increasingly as a powerful tool to convey new political ideas and essentially comes to serve the state. As a result, the traditional arts suffer as propagandistic qualities outweigh artistic values.

In 1986, during perestroika (reform), opposition builds against the Soviet central government. In 1990, sovereign rights are demanded from the Union and in 1991 the republics of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan are declared independent states.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, artists of the new independent republics become active in producing creative work that is socially and politically critical—one that expresses their unique concerns. Emerging from 140 years of Russian rule, Central Asian artists begin to come to terms with their role in a changing global community and grapple with issues of the reintroduction of religion, gender, their Islamic and pre-Islamic origins. They work in a multitude of media, including installation, painting, photography, and video.

The history of Afghanistan during this period takes a different path. Britain grants Afghanistan full independence in 1919 and Emir Amanullah (r. 1919–29) introduces various modernizing reforms. During the cold war, Muhammad Zahir (r. 1933–73) develops close ties with the Soviet Union, accepting extensive economic aid. He is overthrown by Muhammad Da'ud in 1973, who in turn is ousted in a coup by Nur Muhammad Tarah'ki (1917–1979) and his successor Babrak Karmal (1929–1996) shortly after. Armed insurgents oppose Karmal and fight to create an Islamic state in Afghanistan. In order to defend his government and save it from collapse, Karmal calls for Soviet military backing. Thus, Moscow carries out a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

A fierce resistance builds to the Soviet presence, primarily led by guerrilla forces called the mujahideen, who call for jihad (holy war) to expel the invaders. The United States then intervenes by providing arms to the resistance. This results in civil unrest between factions. The Soviets do not withdraw until February 1989 and in 1992, Islamic rebels finally end Soviet rule. This leaves a power vacuum and fighting breaks out among competing factions, one of which, the Taliban, seizes control of Kabul in 1996. The Taliban impose fundamentalist laws in every sphere of life. Afghan women are particularly affected and many refugees flee the country to Pakistan and Iran. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden (born 1957) is sheltered by the Taliban and finances terrorist training complexes in the country. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States, Bin Laden emerges as the prime suspect in the tragedy. In response, the United States and its allies begin air strikes against the Taliban military establishment in December 2001. The Taliban regime collapses, as the United States and its allies maintain a military presence in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai (born 1957) is named the leader of Afghanistan's interim government and in June 2002 he becomes president. The U.S. and fifty other countries pledge billions of dollars to rebuild the war-torn country.

The unstable political situation since the early 1970s is not conducive to the development of the arts in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban particularly, artistic expression is overtly discouraged and decrees are issued forbidding art, music, dance, and photography, among things. With the postwar rebuilding efforts and greater freedom of artistic expression, there is a rebirth of cultural life in the country. The National Gallery reopens, and serious attempts are made to locate treasures missing from the National Museum and to restore the country's cultural heritage.

    • 1901–19 Emir Habibullah Khan of Afghanistan pushes for modernization of his country. During his reign, the first colleges open, and hospitals, factories, and roads are built. His pro-British policies, however, are not supported, and he is assassinated in 1919.

    • 1907 The Anglo-Russian Convention defines British and Russian spheres of influence in the region, which each country agrees to respect. These borders currently define the present republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

    • 1912 Muslims in the Xinjiang Province of China are allowed self-rule, which brings peace to the region after many years of unrest. Sir Aurel Stein (1862–1943) is among the European archaeologists now able to travel through and study the area.

    • 1916 A revolt against Russian rule is triggered by the announcement that men from the Central Asian provinces will be required to dig trenches for the Russian troops in World War I, but will not be permitted to fight. The rebellion is brutally suppressed and many ethnic Kyrgyz flee to neighboring Xinjiang.

    • 1917 With the revolution in Russia and the collapse of the monarchy, it seems possible that the Central Asian protectorates of the Russian empire will become free, but they soon fall to the Bolshevik armies. Calls for greater rights grow and a Congress of Central Asian Muslims is organized, but the Bolsheviks reject Muslim autonomy. An estimated 1–3 million people die in the famines of 1918–19 in Central Asia.

    • 1918 Afghan intellectual and poet Mahmud Tarzi introduces modern journalism into Afghanistan with the creation of several newspapers.

    • 1919 In the Treaty of Rawalpindi, Britain cedes control of Afghanistan's foreign relations and King Amanullah becomes the first ruler of an independent monarchy. He assists the neighboring khanates of Bukhara and Khiva in resisting the Bolshevik armies; they are eventually absorbed into the Soviet Union but Amanullah signs a nonaggression pact with the Russians and avoids the same fate. After traveling through Europe and the Middle East in 1927–28, he accelerates the pace of reform in his own country. Powerful conservative factions oppose the changes, however, and Amanullah is forced to abdicate.

    • 1920–24 As the fledgling Soviet government sets out to determine how the new union of republics will be organized, the local Muslim division of the Communist party calls for one state encompassing the entire Turkic region, rather than a division along ethnic lines. In 1922, once the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is formed, the decision is made for the latter and in 1924 the republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan are born.

    • 1921 Mongolia, under Chinese rule since the seventeenth century, expels the occupying troops to become independent; however the new nation soon falls under the political and cultural sway of the Soviet Union. It undergoes its own socialist revolution and becomes the People's Republic of Mongolia in 1924.

    • 1921 The Afghans conclude a Treaty of Friendship with the new Bolshevik regime of the Soviet Union.

    • 1924 Afghanistan's first national museum is inaugurated by King Amanullah at Koti Baghcha. In 1931, its holdings are transferred to the present building in Darulaman.

    • 1928 The Central Asian republics of the USSR switch from the Arabic to the Roman script. In 1940, they will be forced to use the Cyrillic script as part of a larger process of Russification, which includes the changing of many city names.

    • 1931 Afghani painter and composer Abdul Ghafur Brechna (1907–1974), fresh from studies in Germany, returns to Kabul, where he establishes the School of Arts and Crafts. The school will later become the Academy of Fine Arts.

    • 1931 Afghanistan becomes a constitutional monarchy.

    • 1933–73 During the long reign of Muhammad Zahir, Afghanistan once again struggles through a series of reforms. A new banking system is implemented, agricultural exports increase, and newspapers flourish under new free press laws, but many Afghans oppose social change and few outside of Kabul enjoy greater rights.

    • 1941 Hitler invades the USSR.

    • 1942 Xinjiang comes under the control of the Chinese Republican Government.

    • 1949 When the People's Republic of China is declared, Xinjiang becomes the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

    • 1966 The Afghan Institute of Archaeology is established in Darulaman.

    • 1973 Afghan king Muhammad Zahir's minister Muhammad Da'ud seizes power, abolishes the monarchy, and establishes the Republic of Afghanistan. Muhammad Zahir goes into exile in Rome.

    • 1978 A pro-Moscow revolution in Afghanistan overthrows Muhammad Da'ud's government, but the new government's communist and antireligious leanings alienate most of the population. A second, Soviet-backed revolution succeeds in installing a puppet government. In response, a holy war is declared, which continues through the 1980s as the United States aids the mujahideen against their Soviet-supported foes.

    • 1979 In December, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.

    • 1985 Anti-Russian riots erupt in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and again in 1989 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

    • 1986 With the opening of the Karakoram Highway and the Sino-Soviet Trans-Eurasian Railway in 1991, China and Central Asia are linked by trade again, as they had been by the Silk Road.

    • 1989 Protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing are joined by hundreds of thousands of workers and students; the ensuing massacre by government troops results in hundreds of casualties.

    • 1989 Under Gorbachev, Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan, after which civil war ensues.

    • 1990 The USSR collapses.

    • 1991 Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan become independent republics.

    • 1992 In Afghanistan, the Islamic mujahideen overthrow the pro-Soviet president Muhammad Najibullah (1947–1996). After the invasion of Kabul in this year, the Kabul Museum is plundered and many historic artifacts are destroyed and the precious collections lay in ruins. Many art objects appear on the international art market.

    • 1994 In the chaos of the 1990s, the Taliban movement gains momentum in Afghanistan. The Taliban represent the interests of both the country's ethnic Pashtuns and those who wish to return to a more strictly Islamic state, and promise to remove from power the despotic warlords who have taken over the country. In 1994, Taliban forces take Kandahar and two years later enter the capital of Kabul. By 1998, the group controls almost 90 percent of the country. Women's rights are sharply curtailed under the Taliban government, which enforces an extreme form of Islamic law.

    • 1996 Osama bin Laden (born 1957) is given safe haven in Afghanistan.

    • 2001 The Bamiyan Buddhas are demolished by the Taliban, who assert that the statues are idolatrous. The United States army moves into Afghanistan after the World Trade Center attacks on September 11. The Taliban government falls and is replaced by an Afghan Interim Authority. Its chairman, Hamid Karzai (born 1957), is elected president in 2002, and his government is renamed the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan.

    • 2004 In January, the delegates of Loya Jirga (Great Assembly of Tribal Families) agree on a new constitution for Afghanistan.

    • 2004 Leeza Ahmady curates the first exhibition of contemporary Central Asian art after independence, entitled Contemporaneity, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.