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craftspeople spent in Doha, Qatar, at the Museum of Islamic



—where Cheshti rediscovered this age-old truth.

Their experience crystallized in the exhibition “Ferozkoh:

Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art” that paired up contem-

porary Turquoise Mountain works with masterpieces from four

historic Muslim dynasties with close ties to Afghanistan. This

dialogue between new and old placed Afghan art on a world

stage and marked a peak moment in its ongoing reinvigoration.


is the word, in both Dari and Pashto, the major

languages of Afghanistan, for “Turquoise Mountain,” the

cosmopolitan and now long-lost capital of central Afghani-

stan’s 12th-century Ghorid Dynasty. In 2006, to support

Afghanistan’s arts and to help revitalize the old city of Kabul,

British author and politician Rory Stewart established the

Turquoise Mountain Trust with the support of Afghan Pres-

ident Hamid Karzai and Britain’s Prince Charles. Since then,

Turquoise Mountain has grown into the country’s leading

school and workshop for traditional arts, where master crafts-

men and artists train students—both men and women—in

woodwork, ceramics, jewelry and gem-cutting, calligraphy

and miniature painting


The “Ferozkoh” exhibition, which opened at the



March 2013 and traveled that fall to the Leighton House

Museum in London, gave Turquoise Mountain artists a

chance to move from designs for commissions and serial

production to the creation of one-of-a-kind artworks.

Beautifully displayed at the


and Leighton House, the

results reached across the centuries: Gold earrings, creat-

ed by 28-year-old Kabul resident Monawarshah Qodousi,

appeared to float next to a similarly patterned, 16th-

century velvet from the Safavid dynasty; a wooden, inlaid

pilaster by a team of 11 artists rose alongside a terra-cotta

merlon, or center section, from a 10th- or 11th-century

Ghaznavid-era battlement; four inlaid marble floral plaques

picked up on motifs in a Mughal miniature. Cheshti’s own

“Ninety-nine Names of God” conversed with a 15th-century

Timurid wood carving.

he exhibition in Doha featured 37 works by

Turquoise Mountain students and teachers, and each

work was paired with a


masterpiece. About half

that number appeared in the London show.

The seeds of “Ferozkoh” were planted in 2006,

when art historian Leslee Michelsen took a position teaching

Islamic art history at the newly founded institute. “I was incred-

ibly frustrated,” says Michelsen. Taliban rule and war had

destroyed much of the National Museum’s art collection, and field

trips to remote historic sites were both dangerous and expensive.

“So even though I was, ironically, sitting in this incredibly artisti-

cally rich country,” she says, “I couldn’t share its riches with the

students, many of whose forefathers had produced that work.”

Fast forward to 2011. Michelsen, by then head of the


’s curatorial and research department, floated the idea of

a small show of works by Turquoise Mountain artists, who

would be invited to the opening. From


director Aisha

Al Khater on down, the response was so enthusiastic that

when a large exhibition fell through, Michelsen hatched a

bold, even risky plan: Invite Turquoise Mountain artists for

a longer spell, and let the exhibition grow out of their expo-

sure to the museum’s collection.

Eighty-six-year-old woodworking master Abdul Hedy,



crafted pieces for Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan. Now,

his students,


tackle a project in their studio in Kabul.