When every piece of jewellery tells a story

Monday April 16 2018

Model in African jewellery.

Chepkemboi Mang'ira models jewellery by the brand OwnYourCulture. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By MILDRED SAKINA
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Jewellery is often described as an ornament made of gold, silver or precious stones used for personal adornment. Common materials used in African jewellery include ivory, carved stone, bone, sea shells, animal teeth, animal hair, egg shells, wood, amber and even glass.

Jewellery is not just about beauty but also a symbol created based on long-standing traditions, and their designs convey important information about the wearer. Jewellery has been used on the continent to convey different messages within the community – first being wealth. A staple in many dowry and marriage arrangements, it would reflect the estimated value of the union. Once the woman collected a sizeable jewellery stockpile, such as in the Saharan communities, it could be used as a form of currency. In dire times, it could be used to keep the family economically afloat.

A model putting on red earrings and a neckpiece inspired by the Samburu culture.

A model putting on red earrings and a neckpiece inspired by the Samburu culture. PHOTO | COURTESY

Secondly, jewellery was often used to communicate status. Certain stones or craftsmanship were reserved for the chiefs or royalty of the community to highlight their position in society. It was also used to indicate marital status; such as in Maasai and Samburu communities. Additionally, they were used for physical and spiritual protection. Amulets would give positive energy to the wearer, while talismans would block any evil meant for the wearer.

In the last few years there has been a fascination and appreciation for all things African – in music, film and fashion. Maasai culture is recognised far and wide and for a long time has been the easiest identifier for people from Kenya.

However, with 44 tribes in Kenya, there are a lot of undiscovered pieces from other communities. Aside from the traditional beads, there are emerging artists who are using recyclable materials to create unique jewellery. The artists are not only creative but conscious about their craft.

Neema Walove who designs jewellery.

Neema Walove who designs jewellery. Her chockers stand out and they represent sisterhood and friendship. PHOTO | COURTESY

NEEMA WALOVE

1. Tell us about yourself and what sparked your interest to get into fashion specifically jewellery making.

I'm a fashion artiste. I am truly passionate about creativity, mentorship and sharing the process. I have always known that I'm a creative, but my fashion interest got sparked in high school during my last art project. I did a dress that sparked my interest then eventually went to fashion school at Mcensal school of Fashion. I work towards trying different things within the fashion industry so I chose jewellery to explore how creative I can be and to explore what can be done uniquely.

2. You design jewellery but your standout pieces are the chokers. These chokers represent a celebration of sisterhood and friendship. Why did you feel compelled to attach meaning to your pieces?

For me it was important to attach meaning to the pieces. Friendships, relationships with your mother, friends, workmates, sisters and cousins are something every woman has to navigate and they are amazing once understood and intentional communication happens. Our pieces are to be used as gifts to anyone who purchases them as tokens of appreciation that you can adorn others or yourself with to feel cared for and appreciated.

Models showcase Neema Walove's chockers.

Models showcase Neema Walove's chockers. PHOTO | COURTESY

3. What plans or hopes do you have for Walove by Design?

As of now we currently have a new collection we are launching and we are looking forward to presenting our new designs. We are looking forward to a lot of collaborations with other companies and individuals and more importantly seeing people impacted by the knowledge we present on our social media platforms. I also look forward to how we can keep exploring our creativity through different projects and finding new ways to keep providing mentorship.

EVANS NGURE

1. What does Afro-futurism mean to you and do you think that your art somewhat plays into this 'new' wave?

Afro futurism refers to an advanced form of African culture, one that we haven’t experienced yet. It’s achieved when we merge the traditional art to technology. It might appear to be dreamlike or fictitious at times.

I might not describe my art as such because it might limit my scope as a creator. My art is Evans Ngure as I believe everyone has something special and when you breathe life and freedom to what you do then there is no way to separate the two.

Evans Ngure putting on one of his creations.

Evans Ngure putting on one of his creations. PHOTO | COURTESY

2. Your art not only has quite the online presence, but now you exhibit your pieces at Dusit Hotel? Why this location and not say at Maasai Market or an event/exhibition like most artists do?

I tried joining Maasai Market when I started out and failed due to misinformation from the artisans. You grow by pulling others up and not vice versa. I have held exhibitions at numerous galleries locally and I am holding my first solo show at the British Institute in Eastern Africa. Dusit D2 has been honourably offering artists with exhibition space for the last three years and I am proud to be part of their monthly showcase.

Earrings by Evans Ngure.

Earrings by Evans Ngure. PHOTO | COURTESY

3. Apart from the fact that you do not use the common beads and ankara/kitenge material for your jewellery and other art pieces what do you think keeps people coming back for more?

The unique and purposeful form of my art. My art is full of life and freedom and when people can see themselves in what I create or what they desire, then they connect.

4. You have a company, Fufuka Limited. Do you have people who work under you or is every piece made just by you? If you were to put out a call for an intern what qualities should they possess?

I have several people I am mentoring at the moment; they are not at a production level yet but will be soon enough. Qualities? Well, you have to be humble, possess life and freedom, and have the desire for adventure and to invent.

A pendant by Evans Ngure.

A pendant by Evans Ngure. PHOTO | COURTESY

5. Every artist has that one item that they are working on just for themselves, one that they would never sell no matter how much was offered. What is it?

I wouldn’t say how much because I never let it get to that point. (Laughs) My Commander in Chief of the Arts forces bag. This is a special hessian cloth bag that is a constant work in progress. If it comes to a point that I can no longer take it out then I will hang it as art on a wall.