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In June 2012, 15 students and teachers from the institute

traveled to Doha. “We knew we wanted them to respond to

our artworks,” says Michelsen, “but we weren’t really sure

what form that would take.”

One thing was clear: The museum was not interested in

having artists “replicate the pieces that they saw but, rather,

put a new twist, a new

dynamic into it,” explains

Deedee Dewar, who ran the

MIA

’s art-education center.

Copying is valuable for

skill-building, she notes,

but the arts of Afghanistan

would not be as varied and

rich as they are had there

not always been an interactive,

creative process at work through the centuries.

o do this, the Turquoise Mountain artists first stud-

ied and handled the masterworks up close. They

could feel the weight and thickness of an eighth-

century ceramic vessel or run their fingers over the

carvings on a centuries-old wood panel. While one

artist examined the underside of a brass bowl, another peered

through a microscope to inspect the pigments and brushwork

in a miniature painting.

“Being with a work physi-

cally, we can look at it from

different angles. We can

examine the quality, the

texture,” says Abdul Matin

Malekzada, head of ceramics

at Turquoise Mountain.

Seeing photographs, he notes,

“doesn’t even come close.”

The collection at the

MIA

,

he says, exuded “a kind of

power, a kind of energy. I

was shocked seeing such old

pieces so beautifully made.

Today, we have better facili-

ties, but we cannot make such

beautiful pieces.”

Museum staff noticed

that as the artists explored

the collection, they tended

to circle back to works from

Afghanistan. “This makes

sense completely,” Michelsen

says. That gave her the idea

of organizing the “Feroz-

koh” exhibition around four

Muslim dynasties that ruled

over all or parts of Afghani-

stan. At first, however, she

and her

MIA

colleagues were

intent on helping the artists

make a leap from admiration

to inspiration.

This is where Dewar came in. Dewar, who speaks in a

broad Scottish brogue, handed the visitors sketchbooks whose

pages were textured, gold-leafed or roughed-up “to kind of

trip them up,” she says. She even made them tear a hole in a

page to see the drawing on the next poke through and thus

maybe trigger an unexpected connection. At other times, they

found themselves drawing

on tissue paper “to think of

layering,” Dewar explains.

She also encouraged

jewelers to experiment

with wood, ceramists to

think in terms of metal and

painters to imagine clay, “to

show them that there are a

hundred ways to approach

a single object,” she says. And when they sketched, she

told them to record their reactions—a detail that thrilled, a

shape that captivated or intrigued, or a variation on compo-

sition or form they might like to try.

At first, some were unsure how to respond. This is because,

as master wood carver Naser Mansori describes it, Dewar

was “adding a new way of thinking.” But one day, Dewar

remembers, one sketch led to another, and then another and

another: The artists began to understand how ideas germinate

and grow in what she calls “the organic process behind really

good design.”

At the museum and on

field trips to sites around

Doha, the artists exposed

themselves also to modern

art in its many forms, and

Left:

An artisan joins thin

wooden pieces into hexagons

that were later joined with

pentagons to build "

jali

balls,"

lower,

which hung in the

Leighton House Museum's

domed Arab Room as part of

the “Ferozkoh” exhibition,

where they complemented a

wall of tiles from Damascus.

"WE WANTED THEM TO RESPOND TO OUR

ARTWORKS, BUT WE WEREN’T REALLY SURE

WHAT FORM THAT WOULD TAKE.”

FAR RIGHT: ARTHUR CLARK

July/August 2015

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