Towards the end of 2022, I was approached by the National Trust to curate an exhibition around the untold stories of some of the South Asian jewellery pieces from the Museum at Kedleston Hall.
These jewellery pieces are from 1899-1905 when George Nathaniel Curzon was the Viceroy of India. As part of my research, I came across a quote from the biography of wife Mary Curzon by Nigel Nicolson, and a diary entry from when she visited Jodhpur. Her reaction to meeting the Maharani of Jodhpur:
Some parts of the entry:
“In one of the beautiful halls I was received by the Maharani…. She received me in the centre of a white marble courtyard, surrounded by women waving yaks’ tails and by eunuchs wearing peculiar pear-shaped hats that these creatures wear.
….jewels hung from her feet. Anklets of great weight dangled over her insteps, and emeralds the size of eggs were in chains around her neck…
She is a handsome woman and was born a Bundi princess, and she has great power with the Maharajah as she has plenty of wits and a son besides. Her uncle was in the room and interpreted for her, but as a native woman cannot raise her voice in the presence of the only male relation she sees, the conversion was conducted in whispers on her part, and she kept her face covered by gauze veil...
The contrast - he (Curzon) and I standing side by side looking over the battlements and that painted jewelled female prisoner inside covered with emeralds, who has to received her horrid little husband on rare occasions he comes near her by placing her face to his feet- is really the contrast and dividing line between East and West."
When I saw this quote - this assumption - that this South Asian woman was oppressed by her dress and adornment, and how Mary Curzon was using this as a metaphor to show the contrast between East and West, I knew that dispelling this myth was central to how I wanted to approach this project.
For me, jewellery is more than just decoration. It holds memories. It carries stories. And most importantly, it can make you feel confident, put-together and strong.
It was really important to reclaim these jewellery pieces from their Colonial ties. I wanted to show that these pieces have found a way to belong in a land they were never meant to be in.
This angle resonated so deeply with me, given that my brand is inspired by my family’s hybrid heritage - spanning three continents over the generations, and ultimately ending up in England.
Growing up in a South Asian family, jewellery has always been more than just a fashion accessory. Jewellery plays an important role for milestone moments like weddings, and pieces are passed down through generations. Through my Empowered Adornment project, I also explored the role of jewellery in the stories of migrant women, acting as security in lieu of money.
My goal with this project was to shine a light on carefully selected adornment pieces in the Eastern Museum and draw out their stories and relevance to the South Asian female experience. I did this through a mix of research into the material culture of these objects and personal items, group discussions and a huge collaboration with other POC artists that accumulated in a reclaiming photo & video shoot.
I had the opportunity to research the Kedleston collection and curate a selection to be displayed alongside my own work. My hope for the display was for it to feel like it was someone’s personal collection of loved and cherished objects. We did this by using soft fabrics and mounts as well as having personal images with handwritten quotes. By doing this, my hopes were to make these displaced objects feel like they were more comfortable- almost treating them like humans with energies, feelings and emotions. I also imagined my own pieces speaking to the museum’s pieces and sharing stories.
The pieces from the collection I chose to include were; A pair of silver anklets from Baroda, Gujarat (c.1898- 1905), A gilt silver headdress with enamel from Keonthal, Himachal Pradesh (c.1850-1900), An amber and silver necklace, possibly from Somalia (c.1850-1900), A pair of children’s brass necklaces from South Asia & A Sandalwood Jewel Box from Mysore, India, (c.1900)
Responding to the Mary Curzon quote, we created a film where we see dancer and choreographer Kesha adopt the role of the Maharani of Jodhpur. I imagined her visiting Kedleston hall, and moving through the stately floor as an act of reclamation. She dances to the soulful yet powerful sounds and spoken word of the Grewal Twins (lyrics below), showcasing how adornment in various forms can be extremely empowering for a South Asian woman. Filmed by Ofilaye, this film will be shown in the Billiard room at Kedleston Hall as part of the My Adornment is my Power exhibition.
As part of the shoot, we captured a series of images of Kesha wearing items from the Kedleston collection along with pieces designed by me. It was ground breaking to see these piece adorned with love for the first time in over a century. Kesha also wears my wedding outfit- my hopes were to showcase the jewellery pieces from the museum’s collection in a way that they were always meant to be seen- again making them feel like they belong and unlocking their powerful energy when adorned.
Before Kesha wore the pieces- trust conservator Mela Penrhys talked us through the process of dusting and looking after the pieces. During the process we all had a chance to intentionally cleanse the pieces with love, especially as these pieces had been on display within the cases in the museum for over 100 years. In a sense getting them ready to be worn energetically.
Working on this project has been pivotal for me and my practice. The emotional burden of doing work around decolonisation of spaces and objects is really underestimated. But for me it is vital that work like this happens in spaces that historically weren’t meant for a person like me to exist in. For artists like myself and my collab team to continue to use our voice and perspectives in the hopes that the generation that comes after us feels represented and structural shifts take place. At the same time, it is so important for organisations to support artists like us in providing safe spaces for us to do this meaningful work.
A huge thank you to my collab team and the Kedleston team for bringing my vision to life. I am super grateful to have been able to showcase these pieces from the collection through a new lens. My Adornment is my Power will be at
Kedleston Hall from 17th February 2023 - 30th November 2023. Please do visit if you can, and tag me in any photos if you go! I’d love to hear your thoughts. I am hoping for this journal entry to be ongoing and something I continue to add to as the project continues in 2023.