Reviving Afghan Traditions
As the world notes the achievements of women on March 8, International Women’s Day, a newly opened exhibition, presented by the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, casts a spotlight on young Afghan women artists and arts entrepreneurs who are reviving the culture and economy of their country. ‘Turquoise Mountain; Artists Transforming Afghanistan,’ which opened on March 5 and runs through January 2017, tells a powerful human story of resilience and creativity amidst the ruins of war in Afghanistan, focusing on the lives of the young Afghan artists living and working there.
Sughra Hussainy, a young painter who was orphaned as a child, went on to study at Turquoise Mountain’s arts institute in Kabul. For Hussainy, who lives with her brother in western Kabul, art is a source of solace and hope. For this exhibition, she and two friends have made all the raw material-including paper, pens, and pigments-to create a piece of illumination work and calligraphy.
The immersive exhibition is told through the voices of these artisans, including Hussainy. Site-specific installations created by the artists depict Murad Khani, the cultural center of Old Kabul. The installation will be enhanced by video projections, large-scale photographs and text panels written by the artisans. All the artisans are connected with Turquoise Mountain, a charity that has been working for the past decade in Afghanistan to preserve and revive the country’s cultural heritage and traditions. These revived artistic practices-jewelry making, calligraphy, carpet making, woodworking and ceramics-have an economic and social impact, creating income for Afghan women and empowering women to become contributors to Afghan public life and economy.
Through the run of the exhibition, pairs of other Afghan artisans, graduates of Turquoise Mountain, will follow Hussainy: These skilled practitioners in other crafts will travel to Washington and share their skills and traditions with museum visitors. This exhibition is made possible by the support given to Turquoise Mountain Trust through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Since 2008, USAID support has provided education and training through Turquoise Mountain increasing economic opportunities and incomes for artists and participants.
The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., together comprise the nation’s museum of Asian art. It contains one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world, featuring more than 40,000 objects ranging in time from the Neolithic to the present day, with especially fine groupings of Islamic art, Chinese jades, bronzes and paintings and the art of the ancient Near East. The galleries also contain important masterworks from Japan, ancient Egypt, South and Southeast Asia and Korea, as well as the Freer’s noted collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler. The Freer, which will be closed during the exhibition, is scheduled to reopen in spring 2017 with modernized technology and infrastructure, refreshed gallery spaces and an enhanced Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium.
Turquoise Mountain was founded in 2006 by Rory Stewart OBE (British Member of Parliament, former Harvard professor and best-selling author), under the patronage of HRH the Prince of Wales and then-president of Afghanistan HE Hamid Karzai, Turquoise Mountain Trust has trained hundreds of artisans in traditional arts, rebuilt 112 historic buildings in the Murad Khani district of the historic Old City of Kabul, set up a local primary school and family health clinic serving more than 20,000 patients per year, organized major international exhibitions from the Venice Biennale to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and established partnerships with prestigious international retailers from Bloomingdales and Kate Spade in New York, to Pippa Small and Monsoon-Accessorize in London. n