Artisanal crafts reborn from Afghan war's ashes

Wed Oct 7, 2009 7:57am EDT
 
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By Peter Graff

KABUL (Reuters Life!) - Ustad Abdul Fattah once made jewelry in Afghanistan's royal studio, developing a lifetime of skills that went to waste in a country plunged into war after the king was toppled in 1973.

The silver-bearded gemcutter, however, is now back in business, teaching at an institute set up by a British charity which trains 120 pupils in intensive, three-year programs in traditional woodworking, jewelry, ceramics and calligraphy.

"We were only three or four people left with such skills, and they were not being used. They would be lost," he said, watching one of his students carefully guiding a quartz stone onto the spinning face of the grinding machine.

"My skills were dead," said Fattah, who was apprenticed into the royal jewelry-making atelier of Afghanistan's King Zaher Shah at the age of 13.

At a time when Western donors are spending billions of dollars on massive aid projects, the Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture is working to save something more intangible than roads, dams or hospitals.

Its founder -- author, former British diplomat and now Harvard professor Rory Stewart -- describes the goal as "regeneration of a culture."

In another room, Mohammed Tamim Sahebzada teaches a class the ancient arts of calligraphy and miniature painting, as perfected more than 500 years ago in western Afghanistan's city of Herat by the great Timurid dynasty master Kamaluddin Bihzad.

His pupils make their own paper, their own cat-hair brushes, and their own inks the ancient way, from natural plants and minerals such as gum arabic and lapis lazuli.   Continued...

 
<p>An Afghan man works at Stewart's Turquoise Mountain Foundation in the old city of Kabul October 4, 2009. At a time when Western donors are spending billions of dollars on massive aid projects, the Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture set up by a British charity is working to save something more intangible than roads, dams or hospitals. Picture taken October 4. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani</p>