As I am now 3 months into the project, I have been dying to share an update with you with how the project has been developing.
If you haven't come across my Empowered Adornment project yet, you can read my press release here.
Today I want to focus on my Why; why i'm doing the project and why Gold jewellery.
I have been obsessed with jewellery and adornment ever since I can remember. Growing up in an Gujarati, Indian, Hindu, East African, British amalgamated household, adornment decked our home from statues, idols, gold embellished paintings and ornaments; wherever you looked there was a carefully adorned nook.
I also remember going to the temple with my grandmother, surrounded by the roar of collective chanting & clapping. When it was our turn to go the front to have our darshan (sacred sight) , I would stare doe eyed up at the Idols of Gods & Goddesses in awe of they’re dress however my eyes were always drawn to their jewels; the shape, colours, and how the glow from the gold lit up their faces. Looking back now, that’s where my fascination with adornment began.
So no wonder I ended up running my own jewellery brand that draws heavily from the story of my family’s migrant journey and re-imagining their identity in a foreign land. My work is influenced by my hybrid heritage, finding beauty in both worlds.
It was the gold jewellery handed down to me from my late grandmother that inspired this project. She passed away when I was 12 years old, and being the only daughter on my father’s side of the family, I inherited her Gold jewellery pieces. It was these pieces that led me to designing jewellery, and piecing together her story. The frustration is that I never has the chance to ask her about her pieces. This project is born through that frustration, and knowing how important it is to document the stories before they are lost is what drives me.
As Pravina Shukla states ‘Ornaments in Hindu mythology, in legends and folktales, signal the power of jewelry to express valour, wealth, generosity, affection, identity and social relationship,’ in her book the Grace of Four Moons-where her research into adornment and the Art of the Body is set in the microcosm of Bananas in India. She takes the adverse perceptive of seeing the Indian woman as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘weak’ where her dress is used as confinement- she purposely, ‘…sought out women women who were happy, who expressed themselves through the art of self-adornment.’
I personally have always seen adornment as a tool of empowerment, a cultural marker and as body armour that makes you feel like you are ready for anything, Shulka shares this view, ‘self-adornment is a powerful vehicle for self-realization, at once subtle and firm. Though men perceive to to be unimportant and non threatening, it is filled with a satisfaction and social consequence. By means of adornment, women gain self-esteem, love, happiness and a psychologically enabling perception of power.’
Uplifting and empowering my community through my work has been at the heart of my practice, and I knew I wanted to do more. Since I did my call out, where I asked you; 'What is your Gold jewellery Story?' I was inundated with your messages on social media and emails. It prompted something in you to seek out and share these hidden stories linked to the jewellery pieces in your own families.
In these last 3 months, I have interviewed 12 of you about your stories, where you've given me the privilege of seeing you gold jewellery, and sharing deep rooted histories about where the pieces were born, how they travelled and how they were intwined with the history of your family both past, present, and future. In every one of these conversations, the participant has mentioned that it was due the the fact that my project prompted the question that they were able to unearth more of their own family’s history. And that due to a project like mine people have been pulling out these beautiful gold jewellery pieces that have been for the most part gathering dust in lockers, hidden away and their stories are finally being told.
It means the world to me that you’ve trusted with the deep rooted story about your gold jewellery pieces and your family story, not to mention precious taking time out of your day to speak with me. As I am listening back to each one, I am fuelled to make this project a legacy, it is your stories that drive me to create a platform that they truly deserve. I want to reclaim these stories through this project to increase and validate that sense of belonging within the South Asian Diaspora.
Over the next few months, I will be working on developing these stories in a Podcast series with talented producer and friend Molly Crossley. As I light up and am engrossed when I listen to back to these interviews; I hope they make you feel a sense of belonging, prompt you to inquire about your own family heirlooms, oral histories and amplify your family's legacy.
I also want to announce that I have 2 new mentors in addition to Rajinder Dudrah, Professor in Cultural studies and Creative Industries at Birmingham City University, whose advice and knowledge has been invaluable in driving the project forward thus far.
Indy Hunjan founder of Kala Phool, a collaborative studio which develops and delivers a range of projects. These take place regionally, nationally and internationally and always in partnership with amazing people. With over twenty five years of arts industry experience under her belt, Indy has worked across artforms to build experiential projects which have crossed socio-economic, cultural and demographic boundaries. Indy's experience of working on large scale art projects has helped me in thinking long term about how I would like to see my project grow beyond this year.
Dawinder Bansal an award-winning British artist, producer and presenter who tells bold, compelling and entertaining stories through film, immersive art installations and theatre productions. Fascinated by people’s lived experiences and their stories, Dawinder's work is informed by her British and Indian-Kenyan heritage and identity. I am inspired by the story telling and narrative aspects of Dawinder's work and with the sessions we've had already, it has informed my research methods and analysis.
I will share how the next stage of developing the podcast is going with launch dates, and how you can listen to the stories soon.
Thank you for these amazing photos Ofilaye