A pavilion and arcade built from intricately carved Himalayan cedarwood. A rainfall of gold and emeralds, worked into a shimmering necklace. Skeins of hand-dyed wool, destined for a tapestry. These are just a few of the traditional crafts a visitor encounters at Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan, an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, from March 2016 to October 2017.
Created by Afghan artisans trained at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, these works demonstrate not only the country’s rich tradition of craftsmanship, but they also represent an economic and cultural renaissance for the artisans, their families, and their community.
Sitting at the confluence of Silk Road trade routes, Afghanistan has ancient traditions of finely wrought handcrafts that mingle artistic traditions from many cultures. But successive wars and instability in the country threatened to wipe out that heritage altogether as artisans were compelled to flee or forsake their craft merely to survive.
Founded in 2006, Turquoise Mountain seeks to revive those rich traditions of craft. By transforming Murad Khani, the Old City of Kabul, into an internationally accredited arts training center that has graduated hundreds of artisans, Turquoise Mountain is taking steps to restore Afghanistan’s proud tradition of craftsmanship. And in partnership with the Smithsonian and the U.S. Agency for International Development, several of these artisans traveled to the United States to demonstrate and discuss their craft, as well as to learn new skills, exchange ideas with American artisans, and connect with U.S. retailers.