Essay text by Laura Deakin
Many years ago, over a warm dinner with family, I remember my dad saying, “Life is not about luck, it’s about timing”. Said with such cavalier conviction, it felt like he knew it to be true. I never forgot that conversation. For a long time, I never quite understood what he meant by it, however as time passed, I came to realise that this statement had a great deal to do with his migration to Australia. At the age of seventeen, his father returned home from work and told him and his two younger brothers they were moving to Australia. They could bring one suitcase each, but they needed to be able carry it themselves. Shortly after, they sailed out. No time for tears or long goodbyes. They arrived in Adelaide after five long weeks on a large smelly ship from Portsmouth, England.
So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.
This brief, yet stunningly apt poem by celebrated Nigerian poet, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, captures the feelings of so many migrants. Umebinyuo lives in America and completely understands the experience of feeling like a foreigner in a place you call home. For many migrants, the decision to move was not one made by choice. Forced to go. Shifted and shuffled. An arrival often met with rebuke.
As I sit to write these words, thousands of people across Australia are taking to the streets to protest the rights of Indigenous Australians. This is a stolen land; a country of such rich history it’s often hard to comprehend the more than 65,000 years of songlines. A nation of visitors, guests and migrants, a delicious melting pot of culture and language. We all bring our individual cultural identity when we break bread at the Aussie dinner table.
Indeed, difference is exactly what the exhibition Connexions aims to celebrate, as it brings together new work from a group of innovative and inspiring Australian makers. These women hail from highly disparate cultures, yet the language of their craft unites them. This is a six-pack of female strength and power that aims to introduce the breadth and depth of Australian contemporary jewellery to an international audience.
Debuting at Paris’ International Jewellery Triennial, Parcours Bijoux 2020, these artists will showcase work that reflects their heritage and cultural experience. The work of these artists gives us a window into their dialogue as Australian makers and affords the non-Australian viewer an opportunity to taste the diversity brewing far from the shores of France.
On the opposite side of the globe, on a tiny island in the Torres Strait, you will find the artist Emily Beckley. She lives on Horn Island, which sits like a cherry on top of the cake of Australia. Beckley was born on the neighbouring island, which sits a short distance away or “5 minutes in a fast tinny (metal boat)”. A revered Indigenous artist, Beckley draws on the experiences, stories and history of her own culture as a starting point, then combines it with her father’s Muslim background and takes these concepts to a new conclusion within contemporary jewellery.
Beckley is involved in numerous artistic initiatives and her work can be seen in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia. As an Indigenous artist of the Meriam Mir and Kala Lagaw language groups in the Torres Strait Islands, Beckley’s work takes the viewer on a journey through time where symbols serve as storytellers. Her use of Indigenous symbols, native seeds and coral, in conjunction with washed up fishing net and wire, illustrate the devastation met by our environment at the hands of humankind.
“We get caught up in a net and forget that we are all part of the same human race. We need to work together to protect our environment.”
Initially trained as a painter, her brush can be found in her application to contemporary jewellery. With bold strokes she brings ready-made items together with jewellery-based materials, carefully blending them to achieve clever and intuitive work.
Similar to Beckley, symbolism and history are two clear features in the work of photographer and contemporary jeweller, Blandine Hallé. Growing up in Paris, her family ancestry includes French, German and Spanish. She moved to Western Australia in 1997 to further her higher education in Perth, collecting several accolades along the way. Almost two decades later, Hallé returned to Europe to complete postgraduate studies in Barcelona. A well-established traveller, Hallé moves between the two cultures, allowing both to form integral parts of her identity.
Hallé uses symbols and materiality seeing “matter as language”. With an understanding that can be read like your favourite dog-eared book, she incorporates native Australian wood and everyday seeds with the hexagon (a symbol of France) and the circle (a symbol of Australia) to tell a quiet story of unity.
“The relationship I have with the environment is similar to the one I have with people, with no hierarchy, each part having an equal place in my heart and mind. There is no ‘you’ and ‘me’ or ‘humans’ and ‘plants’ and ‘animals’. There is only ‘us’. We are all interconnected.”
Hallé shares this gift of storytelling with artist Eden Lennox whose practice is informed by her Australian-European heritage, identity politics, and materiality. Her father arrived in Australia with his mother and younger sister after WWII. Arriving with little more than a single suitcase and a ‘waste not-want not’ mentality, they created homes, formed new families and built a life here.
“I consider how jewellery conveys a social message to induce a shared recall of time, inviting curiosity or playfulness. I aim to construct forms which convey a social message, to build visual tension using the mechanisms of metonymy and metaphor. I consider reuse, the up-cycling ethos and visual aesthetics seated in post-punk.”
Currently completing her PhD, Lennox is a highly qualified artist who has exhibited widely. She has worked with Indigenous communities assisting in developing arts programming. In addition, she also teaches fine art in both the higher and vocational education sectors.
Lennox’s work is indelibly informed by her cultural identity. She uses bold pop and punk symbols, representative of her upbringing, in stark calculated arrangements to illustrate the mixing, melting and amalgamation of a modern migrant in the Australian landscape.
Fatemeh Boroujeni’s cultural background whispers through her work. The simple materiality is evident to the viewer and sharply in focus for the wearer. Contours and forms are carefully hammered and chased into place using the classic goldsmithing technique of repoussé (an ancient technique used to precisely manipulate metal). Intricate Persian patterns stand strong alongside the soft wooden shapes and sensual texture of the painter’s brush.
Boroujeni utilises the brush itself in combination with wood, silver and copper to create a rich connection to her heritage. Instead of seeing the brush as a tool or a device, she uses it as an untainted material, carefully and respectfully giving it a place within contemporary jewellery.
“I am inspired by the humble brush; this tool has infinite potential. In this collection I have deconstructed the brush to its most basic elements and used the contrasts of light and dark, soft and hard, dull and shiny to create works that symbolise the different sides of our inner and outer selves.”
As an ethnic Bakhtiari from Iran, Boroujeni arrived in Australia in 2010, already holding several degrees in art and design. She furthered her studies in Perth, graduating in 2015 and receiving several major prizes.
“In my recent works I found the combination of wood, brush and metal quite fascinating. Contrast is always a part of my artwork.”
Contrast is visually and conceptually evident in the work of Bombay born contemporary jeweller Sultana Shamshi. An experienced traveller, Shamshi has lived and worked in Europe and South East Asia, however in1982 she immigrated to Australia, settling in Perth where she completed her Advanced Diploma in Jewellery Design at CIT in 2012.
This new work from Shamshi is inspired by her immediate surroundings and represents a reaction to the desecration and deforestation of our environment. Here Shamshi creates her own landscape binding the everyday with the coveted. Commonplace materials such as plastic, paper and metal are juxtaposed against exquisitely embroidered sari borders (commissioned by the wives of wealthy Parsi traders in the last century) or intricately made millefiori beads from the glassblowers of Murano (a material instrumental in the colonising of Africa). Shamshi’s forest of brooches illustrate a bushland where cultures grow together, side by side.
“In this era of global uncertainty and fear, it is more important than ever to find new, generative and abundant forms of connection with each other, across the borders and boundaries that separate us.”
Borders and boundaries are issues evident in the work of celebrated Australian jeweller and artist, Melissa Cameron. With a background in interior architecture, Cameron graduated effortlessly into contemporary jewellery, achieving a Master of Fine Art in 2009.
Cameron’s work has an architectural language that is careful and calculated. In this new collection, she meshes her experiences abroad with the experience of returning home after more than a decade. Cameron takes the discarded and bothersome detritus we look past on our streets everyday, but she treasures it. She cares for it and lovingly brings the white and black elements together on the body in protest to their division.
“Jewellery is one of the oldest forms of artwork. The body is a canvas that we all have access to. Not everyone goes into a gallery. That inlet, I think, is very important and means that we can, on a very basic level, empathise with each other and create community with each other.”
Preparing for a special evening out one might whisper to themselves “Keys, wallet, phone, jewellery - check!” Adornment can be found across all cultures, indeed Neanderthals have been found buried with jewellery dating back 75,000 years. Jewellery has a language that we all understand and the ability to elevate our feelings about ourselves. It ‘adds value’ and affords the wearer a kind of untold power. It spans all ages and is genderless. The body is an intimate place; perhaps the most coveted real estate that a maker dare decorate. So, when an artist uses the body as a canvas, the interactions between the maker, the wearer and the viewer can be stunning.
I’m a maker, an artist, an illustrator, a designer but primarily I am a jeweller. Like all makers I write, and my making reflects my writing. Last year I completed a large series of work entitled Mygration, Yourgration, Ourgration in response to my experience of returning to Melbourne after thirteen years living in Munich. The smells and the landscape are the same, sort of. My family and friends have diminished or multiplied, but everyone and everything has experienced some level of change. I found myself giddy with delight at riding through the city, wriggling my toes in the sandy beach or even relishing the long drives across our ever-expanding suburban sprawl. Home is a special place to find.
During my time in Munich I was lucky to learn the language and there is one expression that often sticks in my mind;
“So jung kommen wir nicht mehr zusammen”
The direct translation isn’t remotely poetic, but the meaning is beautiful. It makes the statement that at this point now, we have come together and never again will we be as young together, as we are right now. It’s a statement about making the most of your time together and appreciating the special times, both small and big. These six culturally diverse artists have come together, united by their connection to Australia and their passion to create contemporary jewellery and their timing couldn’t be better. It appears my Dad was right, because now, more than ever, we need to be inspired by people of all nationalities who show us that unity is the only way forward.