We’re honoured to showcase the rich craft traditions from Afghanistan from our artisan partners in Kabul. All of the artisans we work with are graduates of the Turquoise Mountain Institute, a British non-governmental organisation working to re-generate historic neighbourhoods of Kabul as well as revive the Afghan arts and craft sectors.
For our fifth edition of Field Notes, we spoke with the Turquoise Mountain team to learn more about their mission and work in Kabul. We first spoke with Jennie and Toby from the London office.
Turquoise Mountain is reviving the historic craft traditions of Afghanistan by training young people and supporting artisan businesses.
How would you describe Turquoise Mountain in one line?
Turquoise Mountain is a charity focused on celebrating and preserving cultural traditions and generating incomes for skilled artisans.
What does Turquoise Mountain firmly believe in?
We firmly believe that reviving craft traditions is one of the most effective ways of creating sustainable and dignified livelihoods for people in vulnerable communities across the world, as well as preserving rich cultural heritage.
Children dressed up for Nowruz, the Persian New Year
As an organisation working to improve the lives of those in the handmade crafts sector in Afghanistan, is there anything that you would like people to know?
Afghanistan really is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world, with artistic traditions going back many centuries. So few people see Afghanistan beyond the negative headlines, so for us our work is also about promoting awareness of the diverse and vibrant traditions that make Afghanistan such a fascinating and often overlooked place for sourcing handmade crafts.
What is the biggest challenge you're facing?
The often volatile political situation in Afghanistan can affect our day-to-day activities, which can certainly be a challenge, but we continue to work closely with our artisans and we are committed to supporting them long into the future.
Making jewellery with the torch. Photo: Turquoise Mountain
Complete the sentence “Social responsibility is…”
Caring about the people behind the process.
Is there anything else we should know about your project?
In addition to the training we give to artisans, Turquoise Mountain also supports the Old City of Kabul in many other ways. We have a Primary School that offers primary education to 120 children each year, and a Family Health Centre that has treated over 136,000 patients to date. Supporting the local community is as important to us as supporting aspiring artisans.
A primary school established by Turquoise Mountain. Photo: Turquoise Mountain
We also spoke to artisan Mahdi Ansar. Ansar is a 31-year-old jeweller who graduated from the Turquoise Mountain Institute in 2012.
Ansar is the founder of ‘Afghan Emerald’, and together with his team of 8 they have worked with national and international designers, even having made pieces for the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
What types of pieces do you make?
I make all kinds of jewellery pieces, using techniques like filigree, stone inlay, sheet metal cutting, and gemstone setting.
Can you describe the process of creating your pieces? Where do you start?
I find inspiration everywhere while walking on the streets of Kabul. Once I have an idea, I start by collecting raw materials such as base metal and stone gems. Then the jewellery-making process begins, guided by the design in my mind.
An example of Ansar’s skill and expertise: The Minaret Pendant, inspired by the Minaret of Jam
Do you ever think about the people who will wear your piece? If so, what do you think of them? Is there anything you want to tell them?
When I see my pieces being worn by someone, I feel so happy and encouraged to do more and learn more about this craft. I always try my best to make good quality pieces with great designs for my clients.
Where do you get inspiration from to create your work? Can you share more about it?
Most of my inspiration comes from the rich heritage and culture of Afghanistan. The last collection I made was inspired by traditional Turkmen jewellery.
What is your biggest dream?
My dream is to keep working on my craft and to be able to support my family and team, who depend on me.
Photo: Turquoise Mountain
By partnering with artisans like Ansar, we’re ensuring that traditional methods of jewellery production remain relevant in the modern world.
We’re proud to showcase the craft of Ansar as well as share the important mission of our artisan partner, Turquoise Mountain.
Another one of Ansar’s creations - the SHAHRAK Silver Earrings in Bamiyan Turquoise