Turquoise Mountain: Preserving Afghanistan’s legacy

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This calligraphy was created by a teacher at the Turquoise Mountain Institute in Kabul.
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Young artists are mentored through the first years of their training and given full access to equipment and workshops.
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Fakhria Nezami was born a refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan; she enrolled at the Turquoise Mountain Institute as a teenager.
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Artisans at the Turquoise Mountain Institute receive an intensive 3-year training of their chosen craft. The institute is home to the Alwaleed Bin Talal School of Calligraphy and Miniature Painting, the permier school for these arts in Afghanistan.
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"I do not see myself as just a jeweler, I am also an artist," said Afghan artist and jeweler, Storai Stanizai.
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During the 1992 rubber shoes were made from tires at this site. Today this grand serai is home to Turquoise Mountain's ceramics school.
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Afghan lapis lazuli has been traded for thousands of years and was used in Tutankhamen's mask.
Updated 12 May 2016
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Turquoise Mountain: Preserving Afghanistan’s legacy

It is quite a surprise when a renowned museum chooses to marshal its resources to help benefit a worthy non-profit organization; and this is exactly how your correspondent found herself — surprised — to discover that the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery had opened a section of its museum to replicate the vibrant marketplace of Old Kabul.
The transformation is further enhanced with onsite Afghan artisans demonstrating their skills in jewelry making, wood carving and jali shades, calligraphy, ceramics, carpets, ceramics, emerald and gold jewelry, gem cutting, miniature paintings, and yes, even homemade kites sailing across the ceiling of the exhibition.
The Sackler’s “immersive exhibition” depicts Murad Khani, the cultural center of Old Kabul. This idea of the Smithsonian’s interactive ‘souk’ is in tribute to Turquoise Mountain Trust, a non-profit, non-governmental foundation created in 2006 with the aim of regenerating historic areas, preserving and transmitting traditional craft skills, and creating jobs.
Ferozkoh means “Turquoise Mountain,” in both Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan’s key languages, and it once was the cosmopolitan and lost-lost capital of central Afghanistan’s 12-century Ghorid Dynasty.
“This is … meant to transcend the headlines of war and conflict,” said Julian Raby, the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Sackler Gallery of Art. “This exhibition highlights the vitality of these new Afghan artisans and demonstrates the power of art and culture to tell the story of artistic creativity, resilience and hope.”
Afghanistan, it often is too easy to forget due to the devastation it has endured through recent wars, was located at the heart of ancient Silk Road trade routes; and for more than 3,500 years it absorbed the cultures and traditions of India, Persia and Central Asia.
These decades of civil unrest that began in the 1970s nearly destroyed this vital heritage. Artisans often were forced to leave their country or abandon their crafts. Murad Khani, once the bustling center of craft and commerce in Afghanistan’s largest metropolis — collapsed into ruin.
The Turquoise Mountain Trust was founded in 2006 when British author and politician Rory Stewart established the trust with the support of England’s Prince Charles, and Hamid Karzai, the then-president of Afghanistan. In just ten years, they have revitalized the Murad Khani district of Old Kabul from slum conditions into a vibrant cultural and economic center, while training more than 450 male and female artisans since its founding eight years ago.
Its success on the ground has won world-wide recognition. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, for example, has given his support to the project. Its calligraphy school is named after him — the Alwaleed Bin Talal School of Calligraphy and Miniature Painting. Prince Alwaleed “strongly believes in the power and value of preserving and reviving the Islamic arts across the world,” said Dr. Tommy Wild, Director of Exhibitions with Turquoise Mountain Trust. “This has resulted in the Middle East and Afghanistan collaborating and exchanging ideas and support.”
The organization also has invested back by aiding the local community: it has renovated historic buildings, opened a primary school and a medical clinic which serves 18,000 patients per year, and rebuilt necessary infrastructure. Equally important, it has founded Afghanistan’s premier institution for vocational training in the arts which is dedicated to teaching a new generation of Afghan artisans.
Turquoise Mountain is succeeding in reviving the nation’s proud cultural legacy by providing on-the-job training in traditional construction techniques to over 1,000 masons, carpenters, and laborers during the restoration of Murad Khani; the project’s workers have also cleared 30,000 cubic meters of rubbish from the streets, rebuilt or restored 112 historic and community buildings using traditional earth construction techniques and provided water, electricity, and sanitation to the old city.
The Smithsonian’s Sackler Turquoise Mountain exhibition, made possible by the support given through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), conjures up the unexpected throughout the exhibit.
Here you will find a caravanserai — a courtyard that once served as a gathering and resting place for Silk Road travelers — which was recreated by shipping from Afghanistan more than three tons of hand-carved Himalayan cedar. It includes two 30-foot colonnaded arches and artisan stalls, embellished with colorful toshaks, or Afghan cushions. Visitors are invited to sit and explore with onsite interactive touchscreen maps of Afghanistan which allows visitors to explore the history of the region and better learn of its artistic traditions.
Throughout the duration of the Sackler Gallery’s Turquoise Mountain exhibition, which closes in January 2017, Afghan artisans will travel to Washington and share their skills and traditions with museum visitors. Seventeen visiting Afghan artisans, many of whom are teachers and young entrepreneurs, will showcase their talents to visiting public guests.
And, as an ultimate compliment to their hard work to maintain their heritage, Turquoise Mountain’s artisans have gained worldwide recognition for their beautiful creations. Major international exhibitions have been organized to display their work including the Venice Biennale and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. The Trust has also established partnerships with prestigious international retailers from Bloomingdales and Kate Spade in New York, to Pippa Small and Monsoon-Accessorize in London.
For more information log onto: asia.si.edu/turquoisemountain.


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Fun-packed Jeddah Gamers Con a big draw

Gamers Con offers visitors the opportunity to play exclusive games before they come on to the games market, such as man of Medan and Jump Force. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 15 September 2018
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Fun-packed Jeddah Gamers Con a big draw

  • The event includes challenges between two groups of the best gamers in Saudi Arabia
  • This Gamers Con is expected to attract many visitors from across Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: The second Gamers Con, which opened its doors in Jeddah on Sep. 13, is one of the largest e-gaming events in the country. Held at Baghdadiya, on Andalus Road, it features a number of entertainment events, including video games, animations cosplay, board games and video games challenges.
Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and Xbox all showcase their latest games at the event, which attracts children, teens and adults.
Figures artists and drawing enthusiasts have also been attending to exchange experiences and present their products and work.
Gamers Con offers visitors the opportunity to play exclusive games, such as Man of Medan and Jump Force, before they become available on the market.
Bandai Namco, one of the companies that pays a great deal of attention to supporting Arab players, offers several games in Arabic. At Gamers Con the news broke that for the first time Jump Force will be available in Arabic, which will include a textual translation of the lists and texts of the game. Bandai Namco said that this decision was a thanks to Middle Eastern players who are particularly big fans.
Jump Force includes popular anime and manga characters such as Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball, One Piece and Hunter X Hunter with stunning graphics, and will be released in 2019 for PS4, Xbox One and Steam.
One of the youngest gamers, Faisal Alghamdi, who is 10 years old, told Arab News: “I am here today to discover what exclusive video games are upcoming and I am really excited about the new Spider-Man game.”
The three-day event included a performance by the Japanese video-game music composer Manami Matsumae on Friday.
Tariq Al Arabi Tarqan, the famous Arabic composer, songwriter and singer of 1980s and 1990s cartoon theme songs, will appear with his son, who also has a very big following, performing a list of their popular songs. The three composers posed for pictures with fans. Tarqan, who had a friendly chat with fans on stage, said: “I did not expect that almost 27 years later I would meet my little fans from the 1990s, all grown up and still remembering their favorite cartoons.”
Manami Matsumae previously worked for Capcom in the 1980s, writing music for games such as Dynasty Wars, Mercs, Magic Sword, and the original Mega Man.
Manami Matsumae told Arab News: “We have been planning to visit Saudi Arabia for a while and I was so excited about coming here. When I arrived and saw this great exhibition I was so surprised and happy to see that many of the booths seemed to be inspired by, and related to, Japan and Japanese culture.”
She added: “I am so excited to perform for the Saudi audience.” She revealed that she would perform songs from the Mega Man series.
The event includes challenges between two groups of the best gamers in the Kingdom.
One visitor appeared dressed as Deadpool (Wade Winston Wilson), a fictional character in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Mohamed Al-Shamali said that he and his friend Firas Kashgary, who is always keen to appear as the Deadpool character at any Comic Con or Gamers Con event in Jeddah, were the team behind House Zofi. This podcast, which discusses fantasy and science fiction, has been going for four years, and is available on SoundCloud and iTunes. Shamali said that they were going to do a special episode for the Gamers Con.
Shamali added that Firas “tries to perfect the character (of Spider-Man). He said they were very excited about the community of people there sharing their passion about games and cosplay. He said that it was really great to gather people who have similar interests and hobbies under one roof.
Haneen Hakami, one of the head organizers at Gamers Con 2018, told Arab News: “We are pleased to be organizing Gamers Con for the second time in a row along with Khayal company. We will also be organizing Sharqiya city Gamers Con, details of which will be announced soon.”
Hakami added: “Tickets were sold out before the event began today. As you can see, people are keen to get exclusive animation figures and pop figures as you cannot find them all in one place except in such events.”
One of the participants was Farah Arif, who works for the company that produced the first Saudi manga in the world, Kanz Al-Hattab (Woodcutter’s Treasure), in collaboration with the Japanese production company toy animation studio.
Arif said: “We pay huge attention to fostering Saudi talents, from artists to games developers and mangaka. We are here today to present our projects to visitors and we are currently working on a new Saudi manga series and movie to be launched soon.”
She said: “We are also presenting the work of our Saudi students in Japan. We had this competition on Twitter for artists and game developers, and the winners were rewarded with the chance to join a program organized by Square Enix and SNK. They were trained in how to create animation, how to draw, how to program games and how to design characters. The program lasted for 10 weeks.”
This Gamers Con is expected to attract many visitors from across Saudi Arabia, as an increase in entertainment is one of the objectives of the Saudi Economic Plan under Vision 2030.
The price of tickets for this year’s Gamers Con ranges from SR95 ($25) to SR280.