Retreating from a surprisingly cool and grey July morning, 60 parents, grandparents, and children poured out of a bus on Pennsylvania Ave. Together, we amble towards the entrance to the African Art Museum – our gateway to the Freer and Sackler Galleries. We descend stairs, pass an enticing fountain, and enter the basement level to our destination. An intricately carved wooden structure with plush pillows invites us to enter – while the walls are covered in stories to uncover with large photo portraits, beautiful clay bowls, tapestries, and jewelry. We gather around Sushmita Mazumdar, artist, writer, and educator of Studio Pause and a docent of this gallery, and Sughra Hussainy, one of the artists whose story and work are featured in this space. They guide us through a rotation of exploration – in one corner, children watch video footage of Abdul Matin Malekzadah, a potter and teacher at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, as he mashes dry, red clay with his bare feet – transforming the rubble into the smooth and intricately designed bowls now held in the children’s hands. In another, Sughra stands before her photo portrait and shares her mastery of illumination – the beautiful borders adorning every page she touches. Her words fill the wall behind her, “The Body Needs Food but the Soul Needs Art.”
Turning the Page builds summer learning experiences for families in our partner schools. Each outing is an opportunity to build a window into other worlds – all while staying within the boundaries of Washington, D.C. Our recent excursion to the Freer and Sackler Galleries to tour their exhibit, “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan” was just such a window – made possible through partnership with local artist Sushmita Mazumdar, her colleague and collaborator, Sughra Hussainy, and the staff of Reading Rockets and WETA. These experiences are a chance to cultivate shared learning across generations. As Ms. Pamela Long, a grandmother at Turner Elementary School reflected, “I enjoyed the day with my grandkids – learning about different art and designs and the different cultures. I learned a lot today that I didn’t know when I was coming up. The kids saw some exciting stuff that they had never seen before. This wasn’t only for the kids – it was for the adults, too.” The opportunity to spark conversations between grandparent and grandchild, father and daughter, sister and brother, ensures that authentic learning is filling families’ homes.
Following our journey to “Turquoise Mountain,” families journeyed to the Southwest Regional Library for an art workshop led by Sushmita and Sughra. The designs they marveled at within the gallery walls moved from untouchable concepts to paper for students to trace, color, and make their own. Students and parents used tracing paper to copy the designs from Sughra’s illuminations and transfer them to sturdy cardstock that they then filled with words that became poems on their identity. One student’s poem, housed in an intricate border, proudly declared: “I am artistic, I am creative, I am passionate, I am intelligent, I am hardworking.” The families moved deftly from consumers of art to creators – a journey that gave them keepsakes of their own to take home.
No Turning the Page learning experience is complete without books to further the discovery process. Families received copies of Hena Kahn’s beautiful children’s book, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors and a copy of one of Sushmita Mazumdar’s many handmade books including Little Lantern and the Dark and Moonless Night – a story that explores the Indian celebration of Diwali. Families then boarded the bus to head home, minds and hands full of treasures stored for safekeeping.