In 1919, Afghanistan embarked on a series of reforms that led to the presence of Afghan students at various European universities, facilitating the circulation of peoples, ideas, and goods. Focusing on one of these cases, this article examines how an Afghan student engaged critically with ‘Western’ art and translated artistic ideas and technologies through the grid of Afghanistan's own history of the fine arts. Through an exploration of the work of Abdul Ghafur Brechna (1907–1974)—artist, music composer, poet, and writer—I argue that, despite his desire to train at German technical schools, Brechna translated, then connected, his Western training to restore Afghanistan's traditional visual and literary arts, making it problematic to define his oeuvre as purely ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’. The first aim is to situate Brechna within the intellectual milieu of Weimar Germany, placing emphasis on how he curated the course of his education to support his aims. By tracing out the evolution of his artistic knowledge to Afghanistan, the second part of this article connects his earlier training to the newly emerging scholars in Kabul who also grappled with national renewal and an ‘Aryan’ literary and cultural heritage. Lastly, I discuss his attempt to rewrite the history of the arts by closely analysing his visual and literary work, emphasizing in particular his attempt to reconnect to themes and genres that had previously been lost or neglected.