Abdul Matin Malekzadah

Turquoise Mountain Institute teacher

My father was a potter . . .

My father was a potter, his father was a potter, his father was a potter, his father was a potter . . . and so it goes on. My village of Istalif, in the Hindu Kush Mountains in central Afghanistan, is a village of potters.

My father tells the story of a potter from Bukhara in Central Asia, who came south four hundred years ago looking for the perfect place to set up a pottery workshop. He found it in Istalif, where there are good seams of clay, all the natural materials needed to make glazes, and wood for firing the kilns. Today, all of our houses have kilns, just like houses in the United States have garages.

Istalif has been destroyed three times, and we’ve rebuilt it three times. First, the British came and blew it up in revenge for the First Anglo-Afghan War; then the Soviets came and bombed it; then the Taliban came and burned it down.

When the Taliban came, we buried our tools in the ground and fled with my family. We were refugees for several years. After the Taliban lost power in my area, I returned. I remembered where my tools were buried, but the Taliban had found them and destroyed them. I rebuilt my house with my brothers, and we started to make pots again.

protrait of Erbil Tezcan





The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.