Afghan artists find new homes in Connecticut

Alibaba Awrang, left, with family and friends at the opening of his show at The Good Gallery in Kent on Saturday, May 4.

Alexander Wilburn

Afghan artists find new homes in Connecticut

The Good Gallery, located next to The Kent Art Association on South Main Street, is known for its custom framing, thanks to proprietor Tim Good. As of May, the gallery section has greatly expanded beyond the framing shop, adding more space and easier navigation for viewing larger exhibitions of work. On Saturday, May 4, Good premiered the opening of “Through the Ashes and Smoke,” featuring the work of two Afghan artists and masters of their crafts, calligrapher Alibaba Awrang and ceramicist Matin Malikzada.

This is a particularly prestigious pairing considering the international acclaim their work has received, but it also highlights current international affairs — both Awrang and Malikzada are now recently based in Connecticut as refugees from Afghanistan. As Good explained, Matin has been assisted through the New Milford Refugee Resettlement (NMRR), and Alibaba through the Washington Refugee Resettlement Project. NMRR started in 2016 as a community-led non-profit supported by private donations from area residents that assist refugees and asylum-seeking families with aid with rent and household needs.

This is also not the first time two men have shown work in Connecticut together, as they both recently exhibited at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury in an exhibit curated jointly by The Boston Museum of Fine Art, The Munson-Williams Proctor Arts Institute, and The Mattatuck Museum, which was on display from fall 2023 through spring 2024. The exhibition covered topics of diaspora, immigration, and displacement across the 20th century, including the Jim Crow-era Great Migration, the plight of American Indigenous communities, as well as leading up to the international refugee crisis of the modern day. As the U.N. reported in 2023, “Afghan refugees are the third-largest displaced population in the world after Syrian and Ukrainian refugees.” Awrang and Malikzada, who both have young children, found themselves and their families whisked away from Kabul, the large capital city in the eastern part of the country, by the United States as chaos erupted following the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. The surge in instability and insecurity, as well as the threat of violence in Afghanistan, propelled their separate evacuations.

"Pomegranate Blood" by Alibaba Awrang.Alexander Wilburn

Malikzada’s pottery, beautifully adorning the front windows of The Good Gallery, shows off both the craftsman’s extreme precision — this is not the “flaws and all” farmhouse style that has become trendy in the U.S. — and his strength in building up large, voluminous vases that finish on a delicate neck and slightly curved opening. As The Museum of Fine Art in Houston wrote, “Matin [has] revitalized a nearly lost art of symmetrical design and turquoise glaze derived from natural pigments unique to Istalifi pottery.”

One of the most striking pieces in the show by Awrang is “Pomegranate Blood,” which infuses the mediums of acrylic paint with watercolors and gold leaf to create an arresting blend of fiery colors and ornate textures woven into the paint like a poem. As the master calligrapher wrote in the show notes, “Kandahar [an Afghan city on the Arghandab River] is one the provinces of Afghanistan where pomegranates are famous for their sweetness. It is a time of celebration. When I was in Kabul, we had pomegranate parties every year at the house of a dear friend. For this reason, I see the pomegranate as the heart of all and it is blood sugar.”

The show notes provide a journey for gallery viewers as they can travel from the Japanese ink painting “Through The Ashes and Smoke,” noted as the last calligraphy piece Awrang did before leaving Afghanistan in 2021, up to more recent 2024 paintings like “Fall,” a mix of intense pinks and blues that serve as his interpretation of the autumnal New England serenity that yearly envelopes the town he’s come to call his new home.

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