Turquoise Mountain tells story of Afghanistan’s artistic revival

FIU hosts first showing of Afghan art exhibit since its premiere at the Smithsonian in D.C. in 2016.

Abdul Matin Malekzadah

Abdul Matin Malekzadah is an eighth generation potter in Afghanistan whose work is part of Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan.

Abdul Matin Malekzadah’s village of Istalif in Afghanistan has been destroyed three times in modern history – first by the British, then the Soviets and, most recently, the Taliban. Each time, he and his family – eight generations of potters – have returned and rebuilt.

“My father was a potter, his father was a potter … and so it goes on,” he says. “When the Taliban came, we buried our tools and fled. The Taliban found them and destroyed them. I rebuilt my house with my brothers, and we started to make pots again.”

Malekzadah is one of dozens of artists whose work is helping to restore the distinct artistic and cultural heritage of Afghanistan – nearly destroyed by more than three decades of war.

To tell the story of this transformation, the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs will host Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan, featuring traditional Afghan woodwork, ceramics, jewelry and other crafts, along with immersive documentary video and large-scale photographs of the artists.

The exhibit, which opens in the Green School’s first floor gallery on Thursday, is the first showing of Turquoise Mountain in the United States since it premiered at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer/Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 2016. Similar exhibitions have been held in England, Italy, Qatar and Bahrain.

For the FIU installation, artisans created several new pieces, including the traditional Tekke-designed Peace carpet; a wooden latticed screen called a jali, inspired by those found in historic houses in Kabul; ceramic bowls; and a necklace set with Afghan lapis lazuli stones and inspired by the designs of Parwan province.

Turquoise Mountain ceramic bowls.

Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan features traditional Afghan woodwork, ceramics, jewelry and other crafts.
The exhibit is the first showing of the work since it premiered at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in 2016.

Named for a lost 12th century city in Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain is a British non-profit organization created in 2006 to revive traditional Afghan art and architecture, preserve historic areas and create jobs.

Since its founding, the organization has restored 113 buildings, trained more than 5,000 artisans in traditional crafts and generated more than $5 million in sales through international retailers like Kate Spade and Pippa Small. Today, the historic Murad Khani district in the capital city of Kabul is being restored from slum conditions into a vibrant cultural and economic center.

Pedro Botta, senior director for strategic initiatives at the Green School, visited the exhibit at the Smithsonian and quickly realized it would be a good fit for the school’s new Arts and Humanities Initiative, which seeks to connect the arts to the school’s vision of creating globally engaged citizens.

“I was just blown away at the story,” he said. “It’s a fascinating story of sustainable development that emerged through the arts.”

Botta enlisted the help of Bachelor of Fine Arts student Mario Daniel Alvarado to curate the exhibit, which is being sponsored by the Green School’s Muslim World Studies Program and the Arts & Humanities Initiative.

“It was a refreshingly positive story coming out of the Muslim world,” Botta added. “A positive story coming out of Afghanistan, a place that we associate with war, with devastation, with all types of negative things.”

FIU’s exhibit of Turquoise Mountain was produced under the guidance of the Turquoise Mountain Trust and the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The opening will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, in the Green School’s first floor gallery and lobby. Traditional Middle Eastern refreshments will be served and musicians will perform. For more information or to RSVP, click here.