Long before the recent decades of war and destruction, Kabul’s Old City was a hub on the ancient Silk Road, blending artistic traditions from India, Persia and Central Asia. In 2006, Turquoise Mountain, a charity formed by Britain’s Prince Charles and then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai, rescued the historic arts district in Afghanistan’s capital from the brink of destruction. After restoring centuries-old buildings and rebuilding infrastructure, the group now provides vocational training in woodwork, calligraphy, ceramics, jewelry-making, and gem-cutting for a new generation of Afghan artisans. Crafts produced in the district are sold online and in partnerships with style icons such as Kate Spade and British jewelry designer Pippa Small.
From March 5 to January 29, 2017, DC-area residents can experience Kabul’s Old City vicariously through “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan,” an exhibit at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The show is centered on a mock caravanserai—a courtyard-style gathering place for Silk Road travelers—built on site with more than three tons of hand-carved Himalayan cedar. In addition to interactive displays, visiting Afghan artisans will highlight the exhibit by leading demonstrations and family-focused workshops. Their wares will be sold in the gift shop.
The show “demonstrates the power of art and culture to tell the story of artistic creativity, resilience, and hope,” said gallery director Julian Raby. “This is a powerful moment meant to transcend the headlines of war and conflict.”