I decided to spend most of my first week familiarizing myself with the other disciplines here besides jewellery: gem-cutting, woodworking, calligraphy, and to some extent ceramics as I have been asked to provide supplementary lectures on research methodology across the disciplines and I wanted to get acquainted with their work prior to that.
The highlights of this time were participating in an Islamic pattern making class and the time I spent with the second year calligraphy class.
I jumped at the opportunity to observe a class in Islamic Pattern making as I am fascinated by the complex geometric decorative design that is so distinctive to Islamic art. My own work has a strong base in geometry and I use geometric constructions, often in layers, in my design practice. Ah. Fawad, the teacher of this particular class, currently a teacher’s assistant training to be a Ustad (teacher in Dari), gave me a book on Islamic pattern making to introduce me to the concepts prior to the class. Whilst I was browsing through the book he was working on the most elaborate arabesque calligraphic design. It was mind-blowing in its detail and complexity.
The class was Islamic Pattern for the first years across the Institute, so the class was a mixture of students from ceramics, woodworking, etc. The students were all extremely polite, if somewhat shy to have me sit in their class but managed to strike up the courage to ask me if I would like a chai (tea) and proffered a hot cuppa just before the lesson started (it turned out to be all male students in this particular class group but I should clarify that classes are generally co-ed.). I was invited to participate in the class and the students quickly got together the implements necessary for me to take part: ruler, compass, pen, pencil and paper. One would think that my not speaking Dari would be a barrier but the instructions were so clear and methodical that I was able to follow the class and successfully participate. There is strength to the argument of the universality of the visual language of art and design.
I really enjoyed my time with the young women in the second year calligraphy class, their teacher was away in Herat for his wedding and they were carrying out the assignments he had left for them. They were working on two styles of calligraphy and Islamic pattern making, and I spent time with them, watching them work and talking to them about the traditional calligraphy styles that they are studying here at the Institute. I was spoiled with tea, nougat and biscuits during their break! The head of the Dept. would pop in periodically to check on their progress and to spend some time going over their work with them. Whilst speaking with one of the students who was pretty fluent in English I asked her why she had decided to study calligraphy. She explained that she appreciated the beauty of the patterns and script in Calligraphy and following travel to India and Pakistan with her Aunt working in Henna design that her Aunt had recommended and encouraged her to come to Turquoise Mountain to study calligraphy and pattern work. The entrance exams were taken and passed and here she was. She offered to demonstrate a henna decoration on my hand. I could not pass this opportunity up so I had the palm of my hand covered in a henna decoration. The students found it especially amusing my trying to balance my notebook on my knee with the back of my left hand as the henna preparation dried whilst continuing to take notes with my right.
It is great to see an arts college environment operating here in Afghanistan, and to see the various traditional styles of craftsmanship being passed from the experienced Ustads to the young men and women studying here at the Institute.