Students gazed at hand-made, turquoise-colored bowls. They stared at a necklace set with Afghan lapiz lazuli stone. And they watched videos featuring Afghan artisans telling their stories.
This past summer, 60 students – all from Miami Dade College (MDC), majoring in art, history or English and approaching graduation – experienced the Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan exhibition currently on display at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs’ lobby.
The exhibit features traditional Afghan woodwork, ceramics, jewelry and other crafts, along with an immersive documentary video and large-scale photographs of artists who are transforming the city of Kabul through a revival of traditional arts.
This exhibit 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.
It’s also an incredible display of the power of the humanities.
“It’s a fascinating story of sustainable development that emerged through the arts,” says Pedro D. Botta, senior director of strategic initiatives at the Green School, who organized the FIU exhibit.
That’s why it was the perfect exhibit for MDC students in humanities fields to experience, says Ana Menendez, acclaimed journalist, author and the FIU director of a new partnership between the university and MDC called “The Humanities Edge: Creating a Pathway to Diversified Scholarship.”
The partnership is the result of an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation three-year, $2.85 million grant to assist approximately 5,000 local students pursuing an education in the humanities every year.
Humanities Edge hosted an intensive, week-long summer program dedicated to exposing MDC students – soon to be FIU students – to Panther territory and to academic and career options in the humanities fields.
The students attended discussions by FIU professors focusing on the academic conversations surrounding the humanities; explored career development options; got expert advice from FIU alumni who graduated in their fields; and visited Overtown as well as the HistoryMiami Museum.
They also got to explore FIU.
During a scavenger hunt, students found their way to campus hot spots like the Graham Center. They checked out the academic departments that house their chosen majors and they stopped by the Green School building.
“We thought it was important that the students know the resources available on campus,” says Merary Nieves, Humanities Edge administrative assistant at FIU. “The Green School organizes a lot of events for students, many that are humanities-related. We thought it would be good for them to know where that is.”
Another great reason to stop by the Green School: Turquoise Mountain offered keen insights into the humanities, says Menendez, who holds a special place in her heart for Afghanistan since visiting the country in 1998 as a journalist.
“[The exhibit] is very much a public humanities project,” she says. “It shows that it takes [knowledge of] history, English and art to make an exhibit.”
In a day and age in which the humanities are often considered a luxury, Menendez says, the exhibit also points to the value of the humanities – and the relevance of these fields.
“The ability to empathize across boundaries, cultures and to work together, this is something computers cannot do,” Menendez explained. “Computers will never be able to do creativity or feel empathy. They can do a lot of things better than us, but they cannot inspire people, they cannot do the things that make us human. That’s what the humanities are.”