Michelle Obama’s necklace and the power of political jewellery — from suffragettes to a secretary of state
The necklace worn by Michelle Obama while addressing the Democratic National Convention — a fine gold chain spelling out the word VOTE in spaced, sans serif letters — has gone viral.
Made by a small company owned by Chari Cuthbert, the necklace was designed“for powerhouse women who let their voices be heard, especially at the polls”.
Using jewellery to communicate a message is neither new or unusual. Archaeologists have described finding body adornments as “the closest thing to finding prehistoric thought.” Most jewellery, whether a ring or a medal or a badge, is visible to others and thus an expression of the wearer and their status.
But Obama’s is the latest in a long line of celebrated examples of jewellery as a political device: from suffragettes’ medals to Madeleine Albright’s pins. Even brooches worn by Queen Elizabeth have been read by some as political statements.
This is from an article I wrote for The Conversation. It was published August 25, 2020 6.05am AEST you can read the rest of the article here
The exhibition Inhabiting Space featured works from three contemporary jewellers, Rebecca Ward (Maleny, QLD), Clare Poppi (Marburg, QLD) and Helen Wyatt (Sydney, NSW) whose small precious works capture the imagination through their material and aesthetic choice. I curated the exhibition for the Glasshouse, Port Macquarie where it was on show from 13 October to 2 December 2018. https://www.glasshouse.org.au/Whats-On/Inhabiting-Space-Oct-2018
In 2010 I curated an exhibition for Redlands Gallery called Revisiting the Australian Landscape - interpreting the landscape on an intimate scale. The exhibition looked at how contemporary Queensland jewellers and metalsmiths were using the Australian landscape as the vehicle to express ideas of political and cultural location at a time of reassessment and reevaluation. It occurred to me after installing Inhabiting Space that there was a clear relationship with the ideas I had explored in the 2010 exhibition. Rebecca Ward exhibited in both exhibitions.
The wall text and my catalogue essay for Inhabiting Space are below.
The gallery wall text
This exhibition looks at how contemporary jewellers are thinking about the environment and how this is reflected in what they make. The works convey a narrative of nature and how it intersects with the built environment and humans. The exhibition asked what we hold as precious, and considers the relationships between these.
Inhabiting Space features works from three contemporary jewellers, Rebecca Ward (Maleny, QLD), Clare Poppi (Marburg, QLD) and Helen Wyatt (Sydney, NSW) whose small precious works capture the imagination through their material and aesthetic choice.
This is a curatorial collaboration project developed with Dr Elizabeth Shaw, from the Queensland College of Art, at Griffith University.
Helen is completing a Masters of Visual Arts by Research at Queensland College of Art. She is Sydney based but has spent recent years commuting between Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle – finding in these places ideas to explore through her work. She has had a long involvement in the visual arts but has more recently focused her practice on jewellery and small objects. Helen is also exhibiting and writing about contemporary jewellery and small objects.
Clare Poppi is an artist living and working in Brisbane, Australia. After achieving first class honours in her Fine Art degree she received an ArtStart grant from the Australia Council for the Arts and has continued to make art, establishing a studio space with three other jewellers from which to create her work. Her primary practice is in jewellery & metal-smithing, focusing on sustainable design and wearable art.
Rebecca Ward is a contemporary jeweller and artist based on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where she lives off-grid on Stoney Edge Nature Refuge. Her work is ‘material focused’ and she uses a variety of natural materials and repurposed found objects to create and theme her jewellery. It is exhibited nationally, internationally and is housed in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. She also works collaboratively on large-scale public art sculpture projects with her artist partner, Russell Anderson. Rebecca is mother to two young girls, enjoys devising and delivering art workshops for adults and children and is also involved with the regeneration of koala habitat on her nature refuge property.
A contemporary jewellery exhibition curated by Dr Elizabeth Shaw
Why Jewellery? 2 is the second in a series of exchange exhibitions between Queensland College of Art Griffith University and Hong Kong Baptist University. The exhibition features works from staff and selected current third year students and recent graduates who responded to the question "Why Jewellery?". The idea for the exhibition developed following conversations I had with Dr Ching Sze Yin, Cicy the head of the Jewellery studio when I was visiting HKBU. We held the first exhibition in the series in 2015, the Why-Jewellery? website has images and information from both exhibitions.
I see Why Jewellery? as an important prompt for our students and graduates to interrogate their ideas about jewellery through their own work and through viewing that of their peers. It is a great opportunity to exhibit their works in an international exhibition and to develop a understanding of other artists' motivations.
The exhibition opened in the Project Gallery at QCA on 14 June, and despite heavy rain, and the university break, the exhibition attracted a good crowd.
When I was 5 I wrote and illustrated a story called "The Praty" sic. I am pretty sure that praty was my 5 year old way of spelling party. Or at least the way the story progresses that is what I understand.
There is something about this small element of my past that has inspired several works over the years. In 1996 for an exhibition of artists books curated by Frank McBride at the Brisbane City Gallery (now Museum of Brisbane) I reproduced the illustrated story in a copper book.
Sometime also in the late 1990's I worked with reproducing some of the characters from the story in silver. I didn't resolve what I was going to do with them. They still linger around my work bench waiting to be resolved.
Around 2005 I printed the characters in black on unbleached linen tea towels. I gave these to members of my family. Around 2000 I made a series of reusable black shopping bags with the a character printed in white, these were again given to my family.
Now in 2017 the characters have appeared in Creature Earrings and on oven mitts. The Creature earrings were included in JMGQs two April Pop Up Shops at Papermoon and an Oven Mitt – featuring a creature from my childhood was exhibited in BusyBrick's embroidery exhibition Prick also in April.
This is a pre Christmas exhibition with a difference. All of the works exhibited have been made from materials retreived from donated jewellery as a part of the Radical Jewellery Makeover.
The Radical Jewellery Makeover is an educational initiative of Ethical Metalsmiths and involves a call to the public to donate their unwanted jewellery. The donations are sorted and categorised to be deconstructed and become the raw materials to be reworked by a team of jewellers. The resulting works are heavily influenced by the donated materials, though the donors may no longer be able to recognise any elements of what they contributed. The jewellers get to work with materials they don't usually use and this proves an inspiration and challenge to develop new works that add value to the materials.
My contact with the Ethical Metalsmiths started in late 2006 when I emailed Christina Miller. I was in the process of making changes to the Jewellery Program at QCA and I was keen to talk to academics and researchers with shared interests. Christina was the first I found and we began conversing by email and mail. The conversations led to Christina and her collaborator Susie Ganch visiting QCA to host a Radical Jewellery Makeover in 2010. This was to be the first international RJM and the 4th in the ongoing series of the travelling community mining and recycling project that draws public attention to the creativity and skills of local jewellery designers, reveals the stories behind our personal collections and encourages re-consideration of our habits of consumption. I joined Susie and Christina to deliver an RJM in New Mexico in 2011. The 2016 Brisbane RJM is the second to be hosted in Australia and I have led it with the assistance of Clare Poppi a QCA Masters candidate.
The jewellers who are exhibiting RJM works in the current exhibition are: Alicia Lane, Alison Bruce, Catherine Large, Chloe Healy. Elizabeth Shaw, Juliana Platt, Katie Stormonth, Kierra-Jay Power, Lynda Shale, Melissa Stannard, Mia Wells, Nellie Peoples, Robyn Pell, Vivien Bedwell and Xiaohui Yang. Many more have been involved in the project. A big thank you to Lisa Brown from Faun Photography for documenting a lot of the jewellery made.
In 2009 Nick Ashby and I collaborated for an exhibition The Miniature Museum which we showed first at Blindside Melbourne and then at Metro Arts Gallery Brisbane. It was the first time we had publicly shown our collaborative works.
In 2016 The S.O.A.P collective made contact. They were curating an exhibition "Using a 'call and response' method of curation." We were two of many artists contacted who had exhibited at Blindside between 2004 and 2009. "The ‘call and response’ method addresses the challenges of working artists in Australia: the networks formed inside and outside the internet, the scarcity of cheap gallery space and the sparse public and private funds to remunerate artists." (2016 S.O.A.P Blindside Room Sheet).
For us, Ashby and Shaw, it was an interesting invitation to recieve. The Miniature Museum exhibition was so long ago, yet we had recently returned to some of the ideas the exhibition had explored.
The works we are exhibiting in Curtain Call represent our continued interest in collaboration, exploring new ways of working together. The three miniature portraits represent writers who have explored ideas about politics, sculpture and painting. Using images sourced online and transformed through interpretation and framing the three individuals are located in a personal domain, detached from their more familiar personas.
The full list of exhibiting ARTISTS - it was interesting to see the final list and great to be exhibiting with them.
Aly Aitken, David Akenson, Santina Amato, Rachel Ang, Jessie Angwin, Beth Arnold, Nick Ashby, Eleanor Avery, James Avery, Jill Barker, Selina Braine, Merric Brettle, Kiera Brew Kurec, Michele Burder, Ben Byrne, Kate Cotching, Bridget Currie, Anna Daly, Jared Davis, Julia Davis, Clare Humphries, Zoe De Luca, Rehgan De Mather, Kim Demuth, Hazel Dooney, Daniel Dorall, Craig Easton, Kel Glaister, Katya Grokhovsky, Michelle Hamer, Jim Hart, PJ Hickman, Stephanie Hicks, Joyce Huang, Amanda Johnson, Lisa Jones, Dena Kahan, Helen Kelly, Anusha Kenny, Susan Lincoln, Michael Lindeman, Natalya Maller, Amy Marjoram, Jessica McElhinney, Pamela See, Julie-Anne Milinski, David Mutch, Kirsten Perry, Debra Porch, Clare Rae, Steven Rendall, Mandy Ridley, Dunja Rmandic, Susan Robb, Giles Ryder, Elizabeth Shaw, Tai Snaith, Lisa Stewart, Andrew Tetzlaff, Jade Venus, Paul White, Jordan Wood, Sary Zananiri
OPENING DRINKS: Thursday 8 December 2016
THURSDAY 8 DEC 2016
6pm – 8pm
Level 7, Room 14, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street, Melbourne 3000
Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm–6pm
Closed on public holidays
(+61 3) 9650 0093
My long term friend and colleague Catherine Large and I have recently sent works to the USA to contribute to The Alchemy of Sustainability at Terra Firma Gallery, Berkeley.
The Alchemy of Sustainability is a fundraiser for Ethical Metalsmiths whose mission is to Lead jewelers and consumers in becoming informed activists for responsible mining, sustainable economic development and verified, ethical sources of materials used in making jewelry. I am on the international advisory council for Ethical Metalsmiths.
My contact with the Ethical Metalsmiths started in late 2006 when I emailed Christina Miller. I was in the process of making changes to the Jewellery Program at QCA and I was keen to talk to academics and researchers with shared interests. Christina was the first I found and we began conversing by email and mail. The conversations led to Christina and her collaborator Susie Ganch visiting QCA to host a Radical Jewellery Makeover in 2011. This was to be the first international RJM and the 4th in the ongoing series of the travelling community mining and recycling project that draws public attention to the creativity and skills of local jewellery designers, reveals the stories behind our personal collections and encourages re-consideration of our habits of consumption.
You can read about the RJM in Brisbane here and here
Catherine and I drew on some of the left over materials from the Brisbane RJM to create pieces for the The Alchemy of Sustainability. We also drew on some materials from our own studios. My bracelets are made completely from my own old works in my studio.
Christina Miller cofounded Ethical Metalsmiths, and when I first contacted her she was Executive Director of the organisation. She is now a consultant inspiring and mentoring bold social and environmental leadership in jewelry, education and the arts.
I am conscious of the mixed use of spelling of jewellery and jewelry in this post, jewelry is used for any text that is American.
these are occasional posts about the things that are inspiring me, or that are happening around.