The Turquoise Mountain Foundation has worked to revive traditional arts and crafts since it was established in 2006. Conceived by HRH Prince Charles and Hamid Karzai and Rory Stewart, it is located in Murad Khane, in the old part of Kabul, the area was a run-down slum where heroin addiction was rife and employment opportunities were almost non-existent. The foundation has made a huge change in the quality of life for the residents there since it was set up. They have been able to hire over 400 local men a day, train them with restoration and construction skills and employ them to build a cultural, educational and economic hub. The community now has a primary school, a health clinic, a literacy centre with a library and an institute of Afghan arts and architecture that teaches English and Business skills and in its new design centre they have trained over 6000 artisans.
In awe of what Turquoise Mountain had achieved, I was excited to start working with them in 2008 when I went to Kabul for the first time. I started working with a workshop run by Javid and Fawad, both had been refugees in Pakistan until the fall of the Taliban when they returned and set up their business. Under the Taliban, jewellery was not allowed to be made or worn. Many of the young men working in the workshop had been childhood apprentices and later became masters of their craft. Later I worked with the first group of employed women graduates who had joined the workshop to produce unique jewellery inspired by Ancient Afghan and Turkman design.
Over the last ten years I have made dozens of collections with the artisans, working in Silver gold vermeil using the beautiful and diverse array of Afghan gems from Panshir Emerald to Lapis lazuli from the ancient mines of Badakshan.
We have collaborated with Monsoon, and sold our collections all over the world. Michelle Obama was gifted one of our necklaces by Karzai, and Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie and others have worn their work. It has been exhibited at the Smithsonian in Washington, Davos and Doha. It has given them vital visibility and a voice over and above the noise of war and conflict. The beauty and skills of Afghan traditional art and craft was nearly lost after decades of war but now it has evolved to have a contemporary feel and can sit alongside designs from all parts of the world.
The very act of creating is an act of hope, of optimism, the fact of a woman leaving her home to go and work with a team in a workshop where she is creating is a huge leap of faith in the future. By the nature of creating, the focus and concentration needed to create something beautiful that will last life times allows an escape from the stress and tension of a conflict whose every day presence is felt in violence and fear. In a beautiful surrounding away from the blast walls and tanks and machine guns the young men and woman artisans can sit at their benches and close the outside world out and meditate on the process of creating.
This and the vital importance of jobs for an area where opportunity is scarce have convinced me the work of Turquoise Mountain is worthwhile and important. I continue to travel to Kabul to work with the artisans, to sit and talk, to exchange ideas and most importantly to listen to their stories and fear and hopes for their lives in a land that has had the misfortune to have been in conflict most of their lives.
I have designed dozens of collections with Turquoise Mountain since and with each, I have felt it essential to maintain a consciousness sense of Afghan traditions. I draw heavily on Ancient influences and use locally-sourced-stones and materials. I am delighted that these designs are now being sold internationally, as are the artisans who take great pride in knowing that their special piece which embodies the spirit and tradition of their country is being enjoyed all over the world.
To read more about the Turquoise Mountain Foundation in Afghanistan, click here.
Film by Arturo Simondetti