Decades of war have shattered Afghanistan’s glassblowing craft

Most Afghans prefer cheaper Chinese-made imports to handmade glassware; foreign tourists, who once used to frequent the trade hub, are no longer coming 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. Mr. 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 Mr. 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.
No value for art
“People don’t value art,” says Mr. Sakhi, who is in his mid-40s but looks much older. He began working with his glassblower father when he was seven. Mr. 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. Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Sakhi, whose family have been making Herati glass for “200 or 300 years”.
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