Traditional Afghan pottery has been made in the village of Istalif for over 1,400 years using the same traditional methods. Its craftsmen believe that pottery arrived in Afghanistan with Alexander the Great and that their techniques have changed little since then.
But history has not been kind to Istalif’s artisans. The civil war found the small village on the frontline of the battle between rival militant groups, trying to capture nearby Kabul from the Taliban. The fighting almost destroyed the village and its kilns that had already been pounded by Soviet airstrikes.
Today the Turquoise Mountain Foundation is seeking to preserve the skills of Istalif’s ceramics masters. They have established a ceramics school in Kabul’s Murad Khane district and have produced 33 master potters.
According to Abdul Matin, Director of Ceramics School, Turquoise Mountain Foundation, during the Taliban the war headed to Istalif itself. All the workshops closed and the people started leaving. Most of the people left for Kabul.
“It was a dark regime, and there was a cloud of darkness. People weren’t able to run their businesses freely. People weren’t even able to walk freely,” Matin said.
He said “This is one of the traditional professions of Afghanistan. We want people to come and invest in our pottery. I don’t know how to explain it. We want a chance to introduce Afghan ceramics to the world.”
Since 2007, Abdul Matin has been training young Afghans at the Turquoise Mountain Foundation. The three-year course produces expert craftsmen in traditional Afghan pottery using traditional Afghan techniques.
“The clay feels soft, natural and fresh running through my hands. Because it’s from the ground. And when I touch the mud, it makes me feel refreshed,” Matin added.
He said “I have been working for 20 years in ceramics, and I was given this profession, by my father and his father. This skill is from the people of Istalif, where I belong.”
According to Matin he was seven years old when he started work in his father’s workshop. “He used to force me to go and knead the clay with my feet and I remember crying. But he told me to learn. Slowly I learned the skills and now I’m the one who is the teacher,” Matin said.
This is the script of a NATOChannel story by Joe Sheffer