Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Glassblowing craft shattered by war in Afghanistan




Glassblowing craft shattered by war in Afghanistan

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Afghan glassblower Ghulam Sakhi crafts a glass object at his traditional glassblowing workshop in Herat province. HOSHANG HASHIMI/afp

Glassblowing craft shattered by war in Afghanistan

HUNCHED and shrivelled, Afghan glassblower Ghulam Sakhi deftly blows and twirls molten glass into delicate blue and green goblets and vases – a craft passed down for generations but now at risk of dying out.

Sakhi is one of the last makers of Herati glassware in the eponymous western city where the once-thriving industry has been shattered by decades of war, poverty, and cheap imports.

The brick and corrugated iron workshop where Sakhi toils only operates a few days a month owing to the lack of demand for the distinctive coloured glassware that is more expensive than Chinese-made products.

“People don’t value art,” says Sakhi, who is in his mid-40s but looks much older. He began working with his glassblower father when he was seven.

Sakhi sits on a low stool next to a wood-fired clay oven, occasionally wiping away sweat as the temperature inside the workshop soars above 40 degrees Celsius.

His eldest son Habibullah works alongside him, scraping shards of glass – mixed with copper or iron powder to create a blue or green tint – into a bubbling pot of molten liquid inside the furnace.

Sakhi sticks an iron blowpipe into the fiery mixture, gently spinning it like a honey twirler. After extracting the rod, he swings, blows and rolls the molten glass into shape before firing it in a kiln.

The tools and techniques used by Sakhi have barely changed in generations, although instead of making glass from quartz, glassblowers now recycle bottles and broken windows, which are “easier to find”.

“It’s not going to last another generation,” says Sakhi, whose family have been making Herati glass for “200 or 300 years”.

‘Already finished’

Decades of war have driven away foreign tourists who used to be drawn to Herat, a city steeped in history as a trading hub on the ancient Silk Road and the 15th century capital of the Timurid empire.

Most Afghans also prefer cheaper Chinese-made imports over hand-made glassware that breaks easily, says Sakhi.

“They think when they buy imports from China they are going to be better quality,” he explains.

The only hints of modernity in the smoky workshop are Sakhi’s blue Nokia mobile phone lying next to him and an electric fan whirring furiously in the searing heat.

Sultan Ahmad Hamidi, the white bearded owner of the workshop who spends his days lolling on a sofa in his store selling Herati glassware, trinkets and handicrafts, despairs for the future of his business.

“Thirty to 40 years ago people were lining up to buy glass here – as many as 100 tourists a day,” says Hamidi, 78.

His store, which is across a busy street from the city’s main mosque, is crammed with Herati glass goblets, vases and bowls that are gathering dust.

With prices starting around $6, it takes a month to sell 100 pieces, he complains.

As the craft declines, survival becomes a growing challenge for Sahki and his family.

Habibullah supplements their meagre income from glassblowing by ferrying passengers around the city in a three-wheeled motorbike taxi.

But without government support or tourism, Sakhi fears he could be the last of Herat’s glassblowers.

“I’m very sad,” he says. “If it stays like this it’s already finished.”

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Kingdom accepts Chinese vaccine, PM first to get jab

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company. In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • PM asks India for vaccine help

    Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking assistance from India for the provision of Covid-19 vaccines as the country has produced its own vaccine which is scheduled to be rolled out to more than 300 million Indians this year. The request was made during his meeting with

  • Cambodia, India agree to start direct flights, tourism exchanges

    Cambodia and India have agreed to start direct flight connections and promote closer tourism exchanges and cooperation in all areas after the Covid-19 saga comes to a close. The agreement was reached during a meeting between Cambodian Minister of Tourism Thong Khon and newly-minted Indian

  • Plastic-to-rice initiative transforms waste into bricks

    Volunteers in Kampong Khlaing commune of Siem Reap province’s Sotr Nikum district have been collecting plastic waste to use as a raw material for the production of bricks and clemence tiles. The volunteers are hoping that, in addition to helping clean up the environment,