Kite festival in Qatar
Qatar’s skies will fill with Afghan kites this month Discuss this article
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Qatar’s skies will fill with Afghan kites this month as part of Ferozkoh: Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art. Curator Leslee Katrina Michelsen tells us all about it.
Let’s start with the festival! What’s is it?
Our Kite Festival will be held in MIA Park on March 22 from 2-6pm. It will be a day filled with Afghan celebrations and activities including traditional food, live music, dancing, kite flying, storytelling and face painting for kids. Afghan culture is very warm, and community-based and we want to highlight this. Having the Kite Festival in MIA Park is perfect, as a very typical Afghan family outing would be to picnic in a garden.
What are Afghan kites like? What makes them different from any other kite?
Kites are ubiquitous in Afghanistan and are made of whatever the children can get their hands on. The art of professional kite-making is passed down through families, where master artists include motifs and styles unique to their workshops. They’re exquisitely beautiful and have a variety of meanings. Kite-fighting (trying to cut the string of an opponent’s kite) is also taken very seriously and it’s addictive – my friend Qais taught me how and it was such fun. Our Kite Festival will be much tamer in MIA Park – no glass-powdered strings or anything, but it is a way to get people outside and having fun in a very authentic nod to Afghan culture.
This is part of a larger art exhibition, correct?
The exhibition presents a partnership between the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha and students and teachers of the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture in Kabul. The unifying theme of the exhibition is the preservation of the traditional arts of the Islamic world – in both themes and materials – in the modern world, and the role of education in its transmission and translation. Half of the objects are historical pieces from MIA’s world-class collection, from four great dynasties with connections to Afghanistan; the Ghaznavids, Timurids, Mughals and Safavids. The other half of the exhibition presents works created specifically for the exhibition by Turquoise Mountain students in response to and in conversation with, these historical objects.
Why do it?
There are two main reasons. One is that many people have the idea that Afghanistan is this tragic, ‘lost’ country when, despite its staggering challenges, there are many amazing things happening there. Afghans are tremendously passionate people working to rebuild and to safeguard their country, their culture and their lives. I’ve had the privilege to live briefly in Kabul and to visit Afghanistan rather often, and it’s not this dour, grey place at all – despite its poverty and its devastation, many people are making tremendous contributions and I wanted to share that under-reported aspect of the country. The second reason for the exhibition is very personal: I used to volunteer with TMI, and I have long wanted to work on a project with their students and teachers. These are tremendously talented artists who have devoted their lives to the study and creation of Islamic art, but they have seen so little with their own eyes. Seeing a photograph is just not the same. There’s no substitute, for an artist, in touching an object. So, together, we made that happen.
What is Turquoise Mountain?
Turquoise Mountain is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation specialising in urban regeneration, business development, and education in traditional arts and architecture. It was established in 2006 at the request of HRH The Prince of Wales and HE The President of Afghanistan. The Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture, which has Afghan Ministry of Education certification as well as accreditation with UK-based City & Guilds, is Afghanistan’s premier arts and vocational training institution, training students in one of its four disciplines – woodwork, jewellery and gem-cutting, calligraphy and painting and ceramics.
And the students were involved in creating this exhibition?
Sixteen students and teachers came to Doha in June 2012 for two weeks of workshops and object-handling sessions with MIA staff and collections and dozens of students and teachers have been hard at work creating the works for the exhibition over the past nine months.
Why is it so important to do something like this?
It’s important for people to feel that art is relevant. Museums are not tombs, or reserved for only ‘some’ kinds of people. Our identity is our culture and vice versa, wherever we come from, and museums celebrate that. The act of transmission – whether it’s a story, or an object, or a motif – across time or across cultures is very powerful and a museum is one place where that happens. The Ferozkoh exhibition is exactly that; it’s a direct conversation between the present and the past, across cultures that are connected, but that are also distinct.
What’s Afghan culture like? What are people going to see?
Afghan culture is tremendously rich, varied and distinctive, but it often gets subsumed into a larger and more general framework, such as ‘Persian’ or ‘South Asian’. It shares characteristics with its neighbours, of course, and the historical borders were much more fluid, but I don’t think that it gets the respect that it deserves. It’s just not as well-known – seeing the awe-inspiring Ghurid-era Minaret of Jam, for example, means a multi-day trek. It’s not Samarkand, where you can drive to a Timurid monument. There are topographic barriers and security concerns, among other things, that have prevented people from travelling widely in Afghanistan for decades. Showcasing historic production in Afghanistan with MIA’s collection will hopefully broaden knowledge about Afghan culture and contextualise these artworks.
What do you hope people visiting the exhibit and kite festival take away?
One of the main objectives of the exhibition is to present a different view of Afghanistan than the one that most people probably have, and that is across the board, regardless of nationality, age or gender. I hope that people are astonished by the tremendous talent of the students and teachers of Turquoise Mountain. We’re exhibiting their work because it’s fantastic, and I can’t wait for people to see that. I hope that visitors to the exhibition are inspired by the historic objects in the show as well as the contemporary works, whether that translates into making something, or reading further, or just thinking and reflecting. Finally, I hope that people walk away from the exhibition with renewed respect for Afghans and what they are achieving, against tremendous odds.
What’s your favourite part of the exhibit?
I loved seeing the Afghan students and teachers, many of whom I have known for many years, actually getting their [gloved] hands on some of MIA’s masterpieces. Since they dedicate their lives to the study and production of Islamic art, but have seen very little in person, that was a lovely moment. Actually, I think my favourite part of the exhibit is yet to come – I want to see the students and teachers walk into the exhibition and see their objects – properly lit, labelled and displayed, side-by-side with the historic works that inspired them.
The Kite Festival takes over the Museum of Islamic Park on March 22 from 2pm-6pm. Entrance is free. Ferozkoh: Tradition and Continuity in Afghan Art exhibition is open at the Museum of Islamic Art from March 20-June 22, including an Academic Conference with lectures by a number of international experts, artists and more on March 20 and 21. For more information and a schedule, see www.qma.org.qa.
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