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Two Afghan artists open show Saturday

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KENT – Two artists from Afghanistan, who resettled in New Milford two years ago, will be featured in a new show, “Through the Ashes and Smoke,” opening Saturday, May 4 at the Good Gallery. The opening reception is from 3 to 7 p.m.

The Good Gallery will exhibit the artwork of Alibaba Awrang and the ceramics of Matin Malikzada in ‘Through the Smoke and Ashes’ starting May 4 with an opening from 3 to 7 p.m. Photo contributed

Alibaba Awrang and Matin Malikzada came to the United States with their families through a resettlement program. Awrang is helped by the Washington Refugee Resettlement Project (WRRP) and Malikzada is assisted by the New Milford Refugee Resettlement (NMRR).

Both men had long art careers before leaving Afghanistan and they even worked together for 20 years at the Turquoise Mountain Institute in Kabul. It was started by King Charles III, when he was Prince Charles.

Awrang’s artwork blends calligraphy with painting and he describes his style as “very delicate and it has curvy and flexibility.” Persian calligraphy dates back 1,400 years, he explained during an April 29 interview. He likes creating new forms of art that tie back to history.

“I use a lot of poems in (my) calligraphy,” Awrang said.

Artist Alibaba Awrang in front of one of his artistic pieces that combines calligraphy, painting and gold leaf. His work will be exhibited at the Good Gallery’s show, ‘Through the Smoke and Ashes,’ in Kent starting May 4. Photo contributed

His friend and fellow artist, Malikzada, uses a very different medium of ceramics but he too cherishes the historical connections of his work. He is a seventh-generation potter who learned from his father and his grandfather.  He revitalized a nearly lost art of symmetrical design and turquoise glaze derived from natural pigments unique to Istalifi pottery.

When he was learning as a child, he went through a lot of pots.

“I broke a lot of pots,” Malikzada said April 30. His father told him not to worry about the broken pots.

The pigment that he used in Afghanistan to create his unique turquoise-colored glaze is from a plant that doesn’t grow in the U.S. When he arrived and decided to keep doing his art, it required a lot of adjustments. He explains that it took him 450 tries to get his pottery right.

The ceramics of Matin Malikzada will be exhibited at the Good Gallery’s show, ‘Through the Smoke and Ashes,’ in Kent starting May 4. Photo contributed

He had never used an electric kiln or an electric wheel before. “It was very confusing for me,” Malikzada said.

He credits the New Milford Center for the Arts for their assistance in allowing him to use their kiln and collaborating with him to work out the issues he was experiencing trying to recreate pottery he’d been making for many years at home. “Now I am able to make eight different (styles of) pots,” he said.

Tim Good, owner of the Good Gallery, became connected to both artists through the New Milford Center for the Arts and when they were preparing for a joint show last fall at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury. He framed Awrang’s work for multiple exhibits.

“The aesthetic of their work is totally amazing,” Good said April 26. The artists are internationally acclaimed. “Their work is everywhere. Alibaba has just done a piece for the World Bank in Washington, D.C.”

The show will also include works by Afghan young women whose work is inspired by the calligraphy of Alibaba Awrang. While Awrang won’t be at the opening, Malikzada’s wife, Najila Malikzada, who does the etching on his pottery, will attend., Malikzada has a second show happening at the same time in Tarrytown, NY. He looks forward to visiting later in the month.

The show opening coincides with an expansion of the Good Gallery and Framing Studio as it takes over space at 23 South Main St. that was formerly occupied by Hudson Valley Preservation, which has moved down the street to Maple Street.  The exhibit will be on display through June 2. All of the works are for sale.

There is another Kent connection to the artists. The Rev. Geoffrey Hahneman and the Rev. Lisa Hahneman live in Kent and have worked closely with the families. Lisa is the priest in charge at St. John’s Episcopal Church in New Milford and Geoffrey is the celebrant and preacher at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington. They are both co-chairs of the Washington Refugee Resettlement Project and Lisa also works with the New Milford Refugee Resettlement.

In addition, St. Andrew’s Parish in Kent was part of the housing team that helped the families find places to live. There were other teams working on different aspects of education, learning English, health services and legal issues.

“It was nice that they knew each other already and to have that community amongst themselves coming into a foreign country,” Lisa Hahneman said. “The community has been so welcoming.”

Both of the families are seen as success stories.

“Both of them are settled well and they’ve taken over their own expenses. They’ve succeeded in their businesses,” said Geoffrey Hahneman.

Both of the men have been granted asylum and the next step is securing green cards.

Both families have been learning English for two years, tutored by the Literacy Volunteers on the Green, which is based at St. John’s in New Milford. Both Awrang and Malikzada said their children have flourished and learned the language quickly. It has been harder for the adults.

They are grateful to be able to socialize together and frequently have dinners together.

To see the work of Awrang and more information about him, view his website. Malikzada has a website that showcases his pottery and has an online store.

Lynn Worthington
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