Spotlight on Turquoise Mountain – 5 Important Achievements

Turqoise MountainIn 2006, the nonprofit organization Turquoise Mountain was founded in Afghanistan with the mission of preserving and regenerating important historical and cultural areas, as well as reviving and revitalizing the practice of traditional arts and crafts. Today, just over a decade later, the organization has made remarkable progress on its mission, transforming the lives of thousands of Afghans in the process. The following are some of Turquoise Mountain’s most important achievements to date.

 

  1. Restoration of Kabul’s Old City

The stunning transformation of Kabul’s Old City, also known as Murad Khani, is perhaps Turquoise Mountain’s most impressive achievement so far. The historic district in central Kabul was once the heart of a vibrant community. However, as a result of years of unrest, it had fallen into significant disrepair. By the time Turquoise Mountain began its rehabilitation project, much of the area lay buried under many feet of accumulated garbage, and the entire district was ranked as one of the world’s most endangered sites on the World Monuments Fund Watch List.

Turquoise Mountain has slowly and painstakingly set to work to rehabilitate Murad Khani. Workers cleared mountains of garbage, lowering the street level by up to 2 meters and uncovering beautiful, though derelict, homes and buildings. Artisans then carefully restored 150 of these structures to their original glory using traditional skills and techniques like mud-plastering and architectural woodwork. Today, Murad Khani is once again home to a thriving community of residents, as well as to the Turquoise Mountain Institute, an artisanal and vocational training facility for traditional Afghan arts and crafts. In 2013, the restoration of Murad Khani was awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Distinction.

 

  1. Implementation of Community Development Projects

The Turquoise Mountain Institute is only one of a number of community facilities and development projects that call Murad Khani their home. In order to better serve and meet the needs of local residents, Turquoise Mountain also constructed a new medical clinic and primary school in the rehabilitated old city. Located on the banks of the Kabul river, the Feroz Koh Family Health Center was established in 2011 to provide high-quality family medicine to some of the city’s most vulnerable populations. Services offered at the center include pediatric and maternal services, radiology, psycho-social counseling, dentistry, and minor surgery. The staff estimates that the center serves more than 20,000 patients every year from cities as far away as Nuristan and Kandahar. The Murad Khani Primary School, which was established in 2012, serves more than 100 students. Subjects that are covered include English, Dari, mathematics, and peace education. Students also learn some traditional arts and crafts such as calligraphy and miniature painting. In order to accommodate even more young students, a new primary school with improved amenities is scheduled to open in 2019.

 

 

  1. International Exhibitions

Turquoise Mountain has sought to not only boost domestic interest in a revitalized Afghan arts and crafts sector, but to raise the profile of these traditional arts on the world stage. With this goal in mind, the organization has successfully arranged and executed a number of high-profile international exhibitions of Turquoise Mountain artisans. From March 2016 to October 2017, for example, the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, hosted an exhibition titled “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan.” Featuring the work of some of Turquoise Mountain’s most dedicated craftsmen, the exhibition gave hundreds of thousands of visitors a new perspective on Afghanistan and its traditions. In addition, during the summer of 2018, the work of Turquoise Mountain artisans was displayed in the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in London in honor of the 70th birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (HRH is one of the founders of Turquoise Mountain).

 

  1. Prestigious Commissions and Partnerships

For Turquoise Mountain, reviving traditional arts and crafts means enabling artisans to earn a living from their work. To this end, Turquoise Mountain aims to help its craftsmen secure prestigious commissions and partnerships that can bring their work to a wider international market. For example, the first major international commission received by Turquoise Mountain was for the celebrated Connaught Hotel in London’s exclusive Mayfair neighborhood. For this project, Nasser Mansoori, one of the finest woodcarvers in Afghanistan and a master at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, worked with London designer Guy Oliver to create beautifully detailed wood panels and carvings for one of the hotel’s principal suites.

 

  1. Expansion into Other Countries

Turquoise Mountain’s work in Afghanistan has been so successful that the organization has recently expanded the scope of its activities into other countries. As of late 2014, for example, Turquoise Mountain has been working in Myanmar to preserve and restore key historic buildings in downtown Yangon in partnership with the Yangon Heritage Trust. During the first restoration project (of a building at 491-501 Merchant Street), the organization undertook a comprehensive program of vocational training in traditional construction techniques, such as decorative lime plasterwork, alongside the renovation work.

This Amazing Carpet Puts Afghan Craftsmanship in the Spotlight

Visitors to Washington, DC between March 2016 and October 2017 had the opportunity to experience a rare and special showcase of traditional Afghan craftsmanship. During this time, the Freer-Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution hosted a unique exhibit entitled “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan.”

This truly special event marked one of the first times that Western audiences were able to get a glimpse of Afghanistan’s newly-revitalized arts and crafts scene. This sector has been steadily growing in recent years as a result of strong local and international support, and the hard work and dedication of Afghanistan’s many talented artisans.

The Smithsonian exhibit presented a stunning array of beautiful works across five artistic disciplines, from exquisite pieces of jewelry to boldly carved wooden panels. However, perhaps the most visually arresting component in the collection was the Afghan History Carpet.

Featuring 25 different colors twisting and winding in intricate patterns across a surface area of 17.5 square meters (nearly 190 square feet), the Afghan History Carpet is more than just a rug. As its name implies, it’s the story of Afghan carpet-weaving captured in textile form. Here’s what you need to know about this amazing work of art.

rug

Image courtesy Carl Montgomery | Flickr

 

It tells a story that’s thousands of years old.

The Afghan art of carpet-weaving is a practice as ancient as it is complex. For thousands of years, different tribes across the country have made intricate rugs by hand. Craftspeople follow an intensive, multi-step process, including raising and shearing sheep, preparing dyes from plants that only grow in or near Afghanistan, dyeing the wool, and finally, weaving the patterned carpets over a period of many months (or even years in some cases).

This process remained relatively unchanged until just a few decades ago. At that time, ongoing conflict and occupation decimated many traditional arts and crafts practices in Afghanistan, including carpet-weaving.

 

It uses a wide range of traditional and historic patterns.

One of the things that makes the Afghan History Carpet so special is that it incorporates an array of different traditional design motifs. Historically, each carpet-producing village or tribe in Afghanistan had its own distinctive way of constructing carpets and its own unique patterns.

The Afghan History Carpet captures these individual identities and traces the evolution of carpet-weaving in the country by incorporating 25 of these motifs. These include the central medallion of the Beshir tribe, the cross motif of the Ersari, and the Turkmen gul (another medallion-like design element).

But the design of the Afghan History Carpet is far from purely traditional. Instead, the rug is formed in a contemporary, loosely-striped background pattern that holds the design together while allowing the different design elements to shift in and out of the foreground. The result is a one-of-a-kind carpet that pays homage to Afghanistan’s rich history of carpet-making while looking toward the future simultaneously.

 

It was conceived by one of the world’s most exciting carpet designers.

The designer of the Afghan History Carpet is the artist Erbil Tezcan. This Turkish national and American resident is the founder and owner of the New Jersey-based rug design company Wool and Silk Carpets.

Tezcan was approached to be part of the Turquoise Mountain showcase at the Smithsonian by Tommy Wide, the organization’s director of exhibitions. At this point, Tezcan had already been working with Afghan carpet-makers for several years.

His work was strongly inspired by historical journeys along the Silk Road and the natural exchanges of ideas and designs that took place as a result. For the Turquoise Mountain showcase, Tezcan was tasked with an enormous mission: to create something truly special that told a story of Afghanistan. The result was the Afghan History Carpet.

 

It was made entirely in Afghanistan.

rug

Image courtesy A.Davey | Flickr

Today, many Afghan carpets are partially made in Afghanistan, but finished outside the country. For Erbil Tezcan and the other stakeholders involved in putting together the Turquoise Mountain exhibit, it was vital that the rugs on display, including the Afghan History Carpet, should be entirely made in Afghanistan.

After many research trips to the country, Tezcan developed the design for the Afghan History Carpet. The rug was then painstakingly created by a team of weavers in Dawlatabad over a period of several months. Finally, the rug was sent to Mazar-e-Sharif to be washed in September 2015. It was then shipped to the US for the Smithsonian exhibition.

 

It’s a stunning example of the high-quality work that Afghan artisans are producing today.

One of the main goals of the Turquoise Mountain showcase was to allow people outside the country to see a different side of contemporary Afghanistan. The story of Afghanistan today is not solely about conflict and poverty. It is about beauty, creativity, craftsmanship, and heritage.

By grouping together some of the most spectacular work from Afghan artisans, including the Afghan History Carpet, the Turquoise Mountain exhibit was an important step forward in building global interest in Afghanistan’s renewed cultural scene.

Featured Image courtesy hewy | Flickr

Spotlight on 8 Amazing Afghan Craftsmen and Artisans

Over the last decade, the nonprofit, non-governmental organization Turquoise Mountain has been working tirelessly to revive and revitalize traditional Afghan arts and crafts. Today, thanks to initiatives like the Turquoise Mountain Institute—Afghanistan’s premier vocational training institute for arts and crafts—and extensive partnerships with international organizations, markets, and artists, a whole new generation of artists are breathing new life into Afghanistan’s unique crafts traditions, and transforming their own lives in the process. Read on to meet a few of the 450 artisans that Turquoise Mountain has worked with over the years.

 

 

  1. Javid Noori

The Noori family has been in the jewelry business since Javid’s father founded his first shop in the 1950s; it was here that Javid began to watch and learn his future craft. Although his family left Afghanistan during the conflict years, Javid returned in 2002 and established one of the country’s best-equipped jewelry workshops. Having quickly gained a reputation for working exclusively with Afghanistan’s finest gemstones, Javid saw his business thrive, leading to a host of opportunities, including a collaboration with renowned international jewelry designer Pippa Small.

Despite the scale of his success, Javid remains firmly committed to supporting and nurturing the next generation of Afghan jewelers. To this end, he teaches part time at the Turquoise Mountain Institute and nurtures promising emerging talents as apprentices in his workshop.

 

  1. Ahmad Shafiq

A 2011 graduate of the jewelry and gem-cutting school at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Ahmad Shafiq is the cofounder of Blue Diamond, a jewelry business that specializes in creating unique, modern pieces that are inspired by traditional Afghan designs. Together with his three fellow cofounders, Ahmad has collaborated with Hattie Rickards, a UK-based designer, on a contemporary jewelry collection that features indigenous stones and bold geometric patterns. He has also worked with jewelry designers Vicki Sarge and Zara Simon, and with prestigious international labels MADE and Bajalia. The Blue Diamond workshop is based in the old city of Kabul.

 

  1. Tamim Sahebzada

As a member of a family of well-known calligraphers, Tamim Sahebzada was just seven years old when he began learning the art of miniature painting. Today, at the age of 35, Tamim continues his family tradition of working to preserve the Behzad School of illumination work, a style of painting that originated in Persia in the late 15th century. In addition to teaching miniature painting, illumination, and design at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Tamim has exhibited his work locally and internationally to wide acclaim.

 

  1. Samira Kitman

Although just 25 years old, calligrapher Samira Kitman is already running one of the most successful arts enterprises in Afghanistan. A graduate of the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Samira established her own business, Muftah-e Honar, in 2012. Two years later, the company garnered a prestigious commission for Mecca’s five-star Anjum Hotel, which Samira completed along with 15 fellow calligraphy graduates from Turquoise Mountain. Since that time, Samira’s reputation for producing quality handmade artworks has grown significantly, enabling her to work on numerous bespoke commissions for public buildings, exhibitions, and private clients all around the world.

 

  1. Masoud Abdul Baqi

Born in Kabul in 1984, Masoud Abdul Baqi grew up outside Afghanistan but returned to the country at the age of 10. After completing high school, Masoud enrolled in the Turquoise Mountain Institute’s woodwork program. Today, he is a specialist in jali, a unique form of woodwork that features hundreds of different geometric patterns created by using delicate joints to hold slender slivers of wood together.

 

  1. Sayed Jan Nuristani

Also known as the “Land of Light,” the Nuristan region in the Hindu Kush Mountains of northeastern Afghanistan is home to a distinctive woodcarving tradition, the hallmarks of which are geometric and repetitive patterns made by cutting deep ridges and angles. It was in a Nuristan village, working alongside his father carving interiors for village homes, that Sayed Jan Nuristani learned his woodworking craft. Today, in addition to teaching at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Sayed works alongside his son at his family business in Kabul.

 

  1. Samim Nasimy

Unlike many other artisans, Samim Nasimy is the first member of his family of distinguished engineers to receive vocational training in traditional crafts. As he explains, there is something very powerful about using one’s hands to transform raw natural material into a beautiful object. A 2012 graduate of the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Samim teaches pottery and helps to run Afghan Traditional Pottery, an independent Kabul-based business.

 

  1. Zahir Shah Amin

Born in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1988, Zahir Shah Amin is the son of one of the most renowned tile-makers in Afghanistan. Zahir has been with the Turquoise Mountain Institute since 2007, when he worked in its tile-making program. Today, Zahir is the program’s head teacher. In addition, he directs his own business and has received tile commissions for a number of prestigious projects, including an exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and the new façade of the National Museum of Afghanistan.