Beauty amidst chaos: rebuilding Afghanistan one pot at a time

Abdul Matin survived Taliban rule and is now helping rebuilding Afghanistan's traditional craft industries.
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WASHINGTON, (WUSA9) -- Roses bloom even in a war zone And artists create things of beauty even amidst violence. At the Smithsonian's Freer Sackler Galleries through January, you can meet some of the incredible artisans struggling to rebuild Afghanistan.

Resilience, hope, creation, rebirth are the themes of the exhibition. Even in the hardest times, humans seem to find a way forward.

"I feel very good," said potter Abdul Matin, whose smile defies the struggles of his homeland. "I feel very good, excellent!"

For 400 years, his ancestors have made the stunning pottery of Istalif, near Kabul, in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. His father was a potter, so was his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, back for five generations. "It's a real honor for me to be able to continue that. It's like an inheritance from them."

It's an inheritance almost lost. His family had just three hours to escape when the Taliban took over his village in the 1990s. The extremists destroyed almost everything. "Just to think about how difficult those times were, of course it makes me emotional."

Matin returned to his hometown after the US and its allies drove out the Taliban. And now with the help of the non-profit Turquoise Mountain and US AID, he's helping restore the ancient industry. "I feel great pride in making something the Afghan people use for eating and in their daily lives in their own homes."

His hands are almost magic, pulling a delicate form from the raw clay in minutes. "It's very important to center. And after I make a cylinder I can make shape."

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Each piece is glazed in the distinctive turquoise of Istalif, from utilitarian bowls to spectacular vases.

The Freer Sackler has built a caravanserai, a Silk Road resting place, to showcase the work of Matin, and 16 more of Afghanistan's most extraordinary crafts people.

Matin has two daughters and a son he hopes will grow up to be potters. But he fears ISIS, or the return of the Taliban, and says the future of Afghanistan remains far from secure.

You can see Matin at the Freer through Memorial Day, and other Afghan crafts people will be demonstrating their work at the galleries on the National Mall through January 29.