Teen Council: A Conversation about Art in Afghanistan

 

One of our jobs as members of the 2016 Freer|Sackler Teen Council is to figure out the significance that art and museums hold for our generation. For exhibitions such as Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan, all twelve of us had to consider a question: Why should we be paying attention to this? First, we had to understand the context of Turquoise Mountain, an organization dedicated to reviving Afghanistan’s cultural legacy. My experience in the exhibition raised another question: Do we know what’s going on in the world?

When the Teen Council brainstormed about what we learned from the exhibition, I wrote down cultural significance. I realized that it’s difficult for Americans, and young people specifically, to understand how vulnerable a culture can be. In moments, chaos can destroy culture, even if it has a lengthy and colorful history. Culture seems like an abstract thing to us, but what Turquoise Mountain made me see is how dependent culture is on individuals and everyday people.

Turquoise Mountain artisan Abdul Matin Malekzadah (back row, third from left) with members of the ArtLab+ and Teen Council, which filmed the video in the exhibition.
Turquoise Mountain artisan Abdul Matin Malekzadah (back row, third from left) with members of the ArtLab+ and Teen Council, which filmed the video in the exhibition.

After we inspected the different Afghan crafts on display, we were left considering what we and other young people should do with this new information. We learned that we would make a video about Turquoise Mountain. It soon became clear that it would be important to emphasize our own perspective. Anyone could have made an informative video on the project and the exhibition, but it was our identities as filmmakers that made it different.

To produce the video, we collaborated with the Hirshhorn’s ARTLAB+ production team, made up of fellow high school students. Abdul Matin Malekzadah, a ceramicist who specializes in the style of pottery made in the village of Istalif, became the representative of Turquoise Mountain’s cultural revival for our video. Bilal, an Afghan American program manager at the Freer|Sackler, translated our conversations, enabling us to better understand Afghan culture on multiple levels.

Bilal, who works at the Freer|Sackler, is Afghan American. His perspective is important to hear.
Bilal, who works at the Freer|Sackler, is Afghan American. His perspective is important to hear.

We learned that Matin’s work is characteristic of ceramics from Istalif, a village near Kabul, which are distinguished by natural potash glazes of green and turquoise. An ancient proverb says, “He who has not seen Istalif has seen nothing.” As we learned about Istalif and its distinguished history, I was struck by how long the village has been known for its pottery, and how quickly the area suffered mass destruction due to its close proximity to Kabul. This made it all the more clear why Turquoise Mountain’s work matters. After spending time with Matin, I can better appreciate how and why he is returning an age-old craft to our modern and ever-changing world.

 

The Freer|Sackler Teen Council is a group of twelve creative and dedicated high school students who help make the museum more welcoming and engaging for young people. The Teen Council plans and hosts events that bring DC-area teens to the museum to hang out, make and design art, and have unique and exciting experiences. Plus, we have a lot of fun and build an incredible community together.

Take a look at some of our upcoming summer events, including our Teen Takeover on Thursday, August 4, 6–9 pm.

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