Media only: Erick Hoffman 202-633-0447 or 202-412-3916; hoffmane@si.edu
Megan Krefting 202-633-0271; kreftingm@si.edu
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Sept. 19, 2016

Three artisans are traveling from Afghanistan to the United States starting in October to demonstrate calligraphy, pottery making and jewelry making in the exhibition, “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan,” on view through Jan. 29, 2017, in the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

The immersive exhibition evokes the historic district of Murad Khani, the home of Turquoise Mountain, a British charity, which has worked since 2006 with hundreds of Afghan artisans and architects to revive the country’s cultural heritage and revitalize Kabul’s historic Old City, which had been left in ruins due to decades of violence and neglect.

The exhibition evokes a caravanserai, a courtyard that served as a gathering and resting place for Silk Road travelers. It is recreated with more than three tons of hand-carved Himalayan cedar and includes a central pavilion and two 30-foot colonnaded arches and artisan stalls. Through large-scale videos and stunning displays of their work in calligraphy, woodworking, jewelry, ceramics and rug making, several artisans reveal their stories and the complex processes involved in creating centuries-old crafts in the 21st century.

While in the United States, three of the artisans—Sughra Hussainy, Abdul Matin Malekzadah and Saeeda Etebari—who also work as teachers and entrepreneurs, will visit venues and events relating to their fields of expertise and exchange knowledge and ideas with colleagues in Washington, D.C., and other cities. Exact dates and times of their demonstrations in the exhibition will be announced ahead of each artisan’s trip and online at https://asia.si.edu/events/default.asp.

Sughra Hussainy, Calligrapher and Illumination Artist, Oct. 5–26:

When Hussainy lost both of her parents by the age of 15, she became the primary means of support of her siblings. After three years of studying calligraphy and miniature painting at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Hussainy is today regarded as one of Afghanistan’s most promising young artists. She has received international commissions and has showcased her work in Kabul and England. In 2014, she teamed up with the jeweler Alice Cicolini to create a unique collection of hand-painted jewelry.

“Making art is a link for me with my past—with my family and with those who went before me. I believe that while the body needs food to live, the soul needs art,” Hussainy said.

For the exhibition in Washington, she and two friends illustrated what goes into recreating a 16th-century manuscript, including the making of paper, pigments from stones and plants, and pens from reeds or bamboo, in addition to Tazhib, or illumination, the art of drawing geometric patterns or floral motifs.

Abdul Matin Malekzadah, Ceramicist, Nov. 7–Nov. 28:

Malekzada was born in Istalif, a village nestled in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. For four centuries, Istalif was famed for its turquoise ceramics, made using a natural potash glaze known as ishkar. Destroyed by the Taliban in 1999, many of Istalif’s pottery workshops were destroyed, and along with them the knowledge of the ishkar glaze that had made Istalifi pottery so distinctive. Malekzadah is one of the leading figures in the revival of Istalifi pottery. As head of the Turquoise Mountain Institute’s ceramics department and the director of Afghan Traditional Pottery, a business exporting Istalifi ceramics around the world, Malekzadah is reintroducing the use of natural glazes and the distinctive ishkar glaze for which Istalif became famous. In an exhibition video, he and his fellow potters demonstrate how to make the perfect pot, from straining rocks and stones out of the clay to firing hundreds of pots for several hours.

“It is an inheritance from my ancestors,” Malekzadah said. “I feel great pride in making something the Afghan people use for eating and in their daily lives in their homes. I hope that my two daughters and son will grow up to be potters.”

Saeeda Etebari, Jewelry Designer and Maker, Dec. 22–Jan. 12, 2017:

Etebari was born in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, where she was diagnosed with cerebral meningitis and lost her hearing. She spent much of her time at home drawing until her father found a school for the deaf where she could enroll. After the fall of the Taliban, her family returned to Kabul where she finished high school and started teaching, but she did not find it rewarding. When her brother suggested she try the Turquoise Mountain Institute, she enrolled and chose jewelry. The exhibition features samples of gem stones of Afghanistan, such as lapis lazuli, amethyst and ruby. It also displays a stunning emerald-and-gold necklace inspired by raindrops and traditional design motifs that Saeeda designed in collaboration with British jeweler Pippa Small, an internationally known designer who has also spent a lot of time in Afghanistan.

“Designing a piece that somebody will buy and wear is a special experience for me,” Etebari said. “I love making a connection with someone through a shared sense of beauty.”

Turquoise Mountain, named for a lost 12th-century city in Afghanistan, was founded at the request of HRH Prince Charles and Hamid Karzai, the then-president of Afghanistan, in 2006 with the mission of regenerating historic areas, preserving and transmitting traditional craft skills, and creating jobs, livelihoods and pride through heritage. It is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization.

“Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan” is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Turquoise Mountain.

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, training and increased economic opportunities for artists and participants through Turquoise Mountain.

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 fall 2017 with modernized technology and infrastructure, refreshed gallery spaces and an enhanced Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium.


Founded in 2006 at the request of the Prince of Wales and the then-president of Afghanistan HE Hamid Karzai by Rory Stewart OBE (author of The Places in Between), Turquoise Mountain 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.

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