When a country is in turmoil, the arts can be the first thing to go. Fortunately for Afghanistan, Turquoise Mountain Arts is reviving traditional Afghan arts, architecture and crafts.

Turquoise Mountain Arts is an institute that seeks to bring back traditional Afghan art by training artisans in four schools: calligraphy and miniature painting, woodwork, jewelry and ceramics.

Historically, Afghanistan was an important cultural center for a variety of Islamic arts that have unfortunately fallen to the wayside under the various conflicts that have disrupted life in the country. Traditionally, the Afghan arts and crafts industry is a source of pride and a respectable way for a person to make a living.

Turquoise Mountain Arts helps the Afghan community in more ways than preserving traditional art forms. Since the institute was fully established in 2006, nearly 1.5 million dollars of traditional Afghan crafts have been sold, with that money going back to Afghan artisans.

When the institute turns a profit, it reinvests in itself, putting the money back toward artisans and students so that they can continue to learn and produce art. Additionally, the different arts practiced at Turquoise Mountain Arts help keep valuable natural resources, such as wood, precious stones and metals within the country. The institute also “provides education and employment for over 400 students, teachers, engineers, architects, and construction workers.”

The heads of each of the individual colleges are all Afghan citizens, and whenever there is an opening for new professors, representatives from the institute head straight to Kabul’s craft district.

Before Turquoise Mountain opened, there were no schools focused on preserving and teaching traditional art in Afghanistan. However, since its founding, smaller schools and programs have opened up throughout the country.

The apprenticeship style program is highly beneficial for artisans, who are taught for three years before going out on their own, and are given internationally recognized “City and Guilds” accreditation upon graduation.

Graduates also receive support as they go into the craft market to start their own businesses and further preserve cultural heritage by transferring their knowledge to new workers.

With growing national recognition in addition to international markets in Canada, Britain and Arab countries like Qatar, Turquoise Mountain Arts Institute is helping to preserve Afghan culture and art, and provide respectable employment for citizens.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: Turquoise Mountain Arts, Islamic Arts

Many educated people casually assume that the human species has grown more advanced over time. After all, the developed world is full of modern conveniences that were not even conceivable two generations ago.

Meanwhile, a wealth of traditional knowledge, skills and information forged over thousands of years of human experience are being lost in our exhausting race forward. As intuitive as modern progress and development seems, many defenders and practitioners of traditional knowledge see it differently.

There’s an argument to be made that that the developed world’s blind reliance on modern technology is largely inferior to the practicality of low-tech traditional knowledge. In many cases traditional methods of agriculture and resource usage is simply more responsible and better for the environment than modern practices.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD,) for one, supports traditional agriculture, claiming that, “Many [indigenous communities] have cultivated and used biological diversity in a sustainable way for thousands of years. Some of their practices have been proven to enhance and promote biodiversity at the local level and aid in maintaining healthy ecosystems.”

The CBD argues that these eco-managerial roles are important for the developed world to look to as a model in how we perceive our environment. The West, in particular, often looks down on these otherwise poor, and undeveloped communities because of their lack of modern convenience.

Certainly indigenous communities have many challenges with health and sanitation that advanced societies do not, but these differences are not so imbalanced in favor of modernity as we might think.

In fact many organizations like the CBD have begun to advocate for preservation of traditional practices. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has also drafted international legislation aimed at protecting and promoting the right of indigenous communities and there traditional practices.

At its roots, traditional knowledge is science in its purest form. It is simple, with empirical observations about the land and its inhabitants. It extends in all areas of scientific pursuit: geology, ecology, astronomy, and physics. You name it, there is an indigenous understanding for it across cultures.

Unfortunately, many of these practices are already lost forever. The loss of traditional knowledge is not just the lost of antiquated techniques, it’s also a loss of culture. As traditional knowledge is crowded out by more efficient and modern practices, it is not just the environment that suffers, but it is also the people who identified themselves by an ancient way of life.

Without some thread of connection to the past, people can become really lost. And though not all ancient practices are worth adopting, not all of them are worth rejecting either.

In this global age where there is such a tremendous convergence of culture, it is important to look to (and retain) the understanding of indigenous peoples. The ecological and cultural gain we have in preserving traditional knowledge is tremendously greater than any gain we might acquire from ease of modern technology.

Chase Colton

Sources: ICSU, CBD, WIPO
Photo: WFP

A skilled Italian photographer, Gabriele Galimberti traveled the world in search of a path formed by his passion. And if only by mere happenstance, that is exactly what occurred.

Using, Galimberti visited country after country and stayed with hosts of varied races, religions, ages and countenances. The kindness and trust inherent in an individual willing to make space for a complete and utter stranger was not lost on Galimberti. He intended to document the phenomenon in order to make the world a better place.

Yet two years and 58 countries later, after compiling stories of over 100 couch-surfing hosts, another idea had transpired. Inspired by a photo taken before his journey abroad, Galimberti took at least one photo of a child and his or her favorite toys in each country he visited. Toy Stories, a series of portraits, features a conglomeration of photos precisely in this manner.

The photographs document a multitude of cultures and social classes, creating a foundation for discussion of values and aspirations. Whereas Galimberti may have spent hours earning the trust of more well-off children before he was permitted to touch their toys, he describes a stark contrast in poorer countries where children were far less possessive and exhibited an increased inclination to share toys among friends and strangers.

While the project was not intended to display any particular message to viewers, the similarities and differences between children are clear. The worlds and cultures within which each child is born, and the desires parents portray in delivering specific toys to their children were clear to Galimberti. While one boy might love Monopoly because he hopes to build hotels some day, another may enjoy playing with trucks that reminds him of those he hears throughout his village each day. Regardless of socioeconomic status or the geographical context of each toy, every child expressed an equal desire to play.

That is what Toy Stories has brought to the world–an appreciation for the simplicity of toys among the many complications and expectations of everyday life here on Earth.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Gabriel Galimberti, Huffington Post, CNN
Photo: Amazing Stories