Making Pottery: Preserving The Past

Abdul Matin hard at work in his workshop
Abdul Matin hard at work in his workshop
One man pursues his dream to make – and sell – Afghanistan’s traditional turquoise ceramic bowls
Abdul Matin is hard at work in his ceramics workshop in Kabul but he regards each turquoise bowl as so much more than a piece of pottery. To Mr Matin, it represents the history and traditions of Afghanistan, more than 400 years of creative skills passed down from generation to generation.
Mr Matin belongs to Istalif, a village famous for its turquoise pottery not far from the Afghan capital. In the mid-90s, the Taliban burnt down Istalif but Mr Matin, who started making pots when he was seven, was determined to continue the tradition. He moved to Kabul, studying ceramics at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, which was established with USAID support. He went on become head of the Institute’s ceramics school and taught the traditional craft to at least 50 students before setting up in business next door.
It has been hard going. Mr Matin says hundreds of workshops in Istalif and Kabul have closed because “people increasingly buy cheap plastic products rather than traditional ceramics.” But he wants to “re-build the market” and says part of his strategy is to make modern pieces as well as traditional.
He says he is encouraged by a recent order for more than a thousand pieces from a Dubai restaurant chain. It’s worth thousands of dollars and Mr Matin has been able to hire more graduates from the Institute’s ceramics school. One day, he says, he hopes to expand the business to Istalif to help revive its rich heritage.

Last updated: January 15, 2015

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