African-Print Fashion Volume 41.2

PATRICIA WAOTA, DESIGNER FOR K-YÉLÉ: TIFFANY EVENING DRESS  in Vlisco wax print, made for 2015 Vlisco Fashion Show, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.  Photograph by Joshua White/JWPictures.com. All photographs courtesy of Fowler Museum at UCLA .

PATRICIA WAOTA, DESIGNER FOR K-YÉLÉ: TIFFANY EVENING DRESS in Vlisco wax print, made for 2015 Vlisco Fashion Show, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Photograph by Joshua White/JWPictures.com. All photographs courtesy of Fowler Museum at UCLA.

WOMAN WEARING DRESS printed with portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and Union flags, black and white photograph, circa 1977. Photograph by Jacques Toussele, © Jacques Toussele.

In 2015 Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo expressed her affinity for African-print cloth, stating, “This is our cloth. Our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers have worn this cloth for too many years for it not to be ours.” Her passionate words suggest the fervor with which African-print cloth is linked to African identity as well as an awareness of its transnational history and present. Its story begins in the late nineteenth century, when the (mostly female) traders in what is now Ghana, on Africa’s west coast, encountered European merchants arriving with a new kind of fabric—vividly-patterned wax prints. These women, from communities that had for generations revered well-made textiles and appreciated imported goods, recognized the potential of the colorful wares and suggested to the merchants motifs and hues that would appeal to their customers.

One merchant in particular, Scotland’s Ebenezer Brown Fleming, who was working with a company in the Netherlands, listened to the feedback his agent received, and, around 1890, began offering printed cloths that—though manufactured by machines in Europe and inspired by handmade batik fabrics from Indonesia—became entirely African. Scholar Helen Elands states concisely that, “It was African interaction in design choices that enabled African aesthetics and cultural values to pervade these products, allowing them to carry connotations of tradition and authenticity.” Many contemporary fashion designers, both in Africa and the diaspora, continue to embrace African-print cloth, which is now manufactured in Europe, Africa and Asia, as a declaration of their connection to Africa. Though these fabrics are delicately entangled in the complexities of Colonialism, technology, consumerism, and style, they are, at heart, African and in innumerable ways, global. 

ALEXIS TEMOMANIN, DESIGNER FOR DENT DE MAN. LES TOILES D’ARAIGNÉE: MAN’S SUIT in wax print by Vlisco, the Netherlands, 2016. Courtesy of Dent de Man, London, UK. Photograph by Marc Hibbert.

Several recent exhibitions have focused on African design and fashion, including “Making Africa—A Continent of Contemporary Design” organized by the Vitra Design Museum in 2015-2019; “South of the Sahara: Accelerated Urbanism in Africa” at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2016; “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016-2017; and “African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style” in 2017-2019. This last exhibition, conceived by the Fowler Museum at UCLA in 2014 just before an explosion in popularity of African-print fashion, focused on the cloth and fashion of West and Central Africa, addressing their history and contemporary iterations while conveying the multifaceted networks of international trade that shaped them and the intricate expressions of identity that they embody. Its lavishly illustrated catalogue, with essays by numerous scholars, including the four co-curators: Suzanne Gott, Kristyne S. Loughran, Betsy D. Quick, and Leslie W. Rabine, stands as a permanent record of a dazzling exhibition.

The terminology used to describe and the technology used to create African-print cloth vary between countries and over time. In the standard hierarchy of African prints, though, “wax prints” generally are the most desirable and are produced with a resist-dye process employing engraved metal rollers that results in fabric printed on both sides and showing characteristic undyed areas of crackles and bubbles; additional layers of color are applied through a variety of methods. “Fancy prints” are printed on one side of the fabric through numerous methods, but do not use the resist-dye process, while “imi-wax prints,” or imitation wax prints, are a kind of fancy print designed to imitate the effect of the resist-dye process. All of these boldly-patterned and brightly-colored fabrics are considered African prints.

MEMBERS OF A GROUP wearing the classic God’s Eye pattern for the Cape Coast Fetu Afahye Festival, Ghana, 2012. Photograph by Betsy D. Quick.

The motifs on African-print cloth range from alphabets to handbags, iPods to chickens, radiating spirals to elaborate hair braid styles. Some early designs derive from Indonesian images, like Tree of Life or Bunch of Bananas (also called Shell), which initially represented the wing of the legendary Garuda bird of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology. Others reflect patterns from traditional African textiles, such as Sun Ray or Target, a design based on tie-dyed fabrics, or Angelina, also called Dashiki and based on Ethiopian tunics with embroidered neck yokes and borders. Especially popular motifs include a hand with coins, a human eye, and fingers, and these often relate to familiar proverbs like “The palm of the hand is sweeter than the back of the hand,” and “I am left with only my eyes to watch you.” Some designs reflect significant current events, like Ghana’s independence from colonial rule on March 6, 1957, Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the visit of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009, or International Women’s Day. Others are produced for specific occasions such as weddings or funerals.

IN A VILLAGE NEAR BROBO, CÔTE D’IVOIRE, an unidentified woman wears a wax-print featuring the distinctive skyline of Abidjan, 1992. The three-piece complet, made from six meters of printed cloth, is considered by many to be traditional Ivorian dress and is associated with propriety, discretion, moral fortitude, and a high regard for tradition. Photograph by Kathleen Bickford Berzock.

Though the earliest African-print cloth was manufactured in Europe, companies began producing prints in Africa during the independence era (late 1950s-1970s), and by the early twenty-first century, countries in Asia, especially China, made their own versions of African-print cloth. In many African countries the “original” wax prints from the Netherlands are revered as the most prestigious, while at times the pride of local manufacture has taken precedent. The purchasing power of Africans declined radically following the structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the late 1980s and 1990s, creating an opening for less costly products from Asia. The recent influx of inexpensive Asian imports has both strengthened devotion to higher-end products and spurred popular interest in and use of African-print cloths as it has made them more accessible. Anthropologist Nina Silvanus describes the cloth as “full of irony,” and “a true hybrid—at once Javanese, Dutch, English, African, and now increasingly Chinese,” adding, “the archive of wax cloth complicates claims about origin, originality, and authenticity.”

Regardless of where the cloths are printed, they acquire their names in Africa. In her essay, Kathleen Bickford Berzock explains that “the long-standing practice of the naming of wax-print patterns by the consumers who purchase, wear, and collect them is part of its enculturation into local frames of meaning and value,” adding that the popularity of a print increases once it receives a name. 

A cloth’s name, motif or related proverb speaks clearly to its wearer’s peers. One popular print for mothers, midwifes, or women desiring children is Children are Better than Money, while a particular fancy print from the early 1990s incorporates the proverb En attendant mon grotto (“Waiting for my grotto”—an Ivorian slang term similar to “sugar daddy”) below an image with a young woman pointing to the desirable possessions of a Mercedes-Benz and a single-family home, against a pattern of coins. 

Berzock quotes folklorist Susan Domowitz on how, among the communities she studied in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire, prints based on proverbs sometimes offered “an acceptable public voice to those who are constrained to silence.” 

KEN TRAORÉ, DESIGNER. KENYA’S STYLE: Pagne et marinière of African-print cloth, 2016. Photograph by Leslie W. Rabine.

African fashion was, and in many places still is, primarily custom rather than ready-to-wear, and Suzanne Gott, in one of her contributions to the catalogue, describes the process as “an ever-changing, grassroots phenomenon.” The first, and most crucial step, is for the woman to select the cloth. The woman then takes her special fabric to a seamstress or tailor to be made into a traditional form, like the ntoma (the equivalent of “cloth”) ensemble in Ghana with a sewn blouse, wrapper or sewn skirt, and an unsewn cloth (an outfit typically requiring six yards of cloth) or the taille basse in Senegal (a fitted top with a peplum worn over a wrapper), or into something contemporary. Examples of these garments featured in the African-Print Fashion Now! catalogue include Senegalese designer Ken Traoré’s taille basse and head scarf from 2016 in bright yellow with orange flowers and olive-colored leaves, and Ivorian designer/seamstress Delphine Kouassi’s trois-pagnes (the Ivorian national dress) in a brilliant print of greens, turquoise and brown with sparkling metallic trim edging the ruffles—the sparkles surprised Saundra Lang, who commissioned this as a daytime dress, but when she expressed that, Koaussi replied, “This is how we dress in the daytime!”

Portraits from the 1960s and 1970s—described as “West and Central Africa’s ‘golden age’ of black and white photography”—emphasize the role these fabrics and garments have played in communicating identity, status, wealth, style, and ideas. Images by Francis K. Honny, working in coastal urban Ghana, show relatives posed in formal settings wearing matching prints to visually emphasize their familial ties, while ones by Mory Bamba, an itinerant photographer from Mali, depict young subjects outdoors in elaborate, chic ensembles. The photographs give faces, emotions, settings, and accessories to the African prints, and bear witness to the Ghanian proverb, “A beautiful cloth does not wear itself.”

BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHS: Portrait of man and woman by Francis K. Honny, Elmina, Ghana, circa 1975. Courtesy of Tobias Wendl. Portrait of young Peulh women and men by Mory Bamba, Sikasso region of southeastern Mali, circa 1978. Courtesy of Adama Bamba, © Mory Bamba. Portrait of woman and child by Jacques Toussele, 1970s. © Jacques Toussele. Photography spread quickly in the 1960s and 1970s with people in rural villages inviting traveling photographers to their communities to take their pictures.

One of the key manufacturers of African-print cloth is Vlisco, which formed in 1970 with the merger of two much older Dutch companies, P. F. Fentener van Vlissingen & Co. and Deventer Katoen Maatschappij voorheen Ankersmit & Co. (DKM). In 2006, Vlisco changed its approach from “a production-focused to a brand-driven fashion textile manufacturer,” and through its dynamic advertising campaigns, established itself as a significant fashion force. Vlisco created numerous outstanding garments considered “communication fashion,” described in the catalogue as “one-of-a-kind outfits created solely to ‘inspire’ Vlisco’s targeted consumers—well-educated elite and upper middle-class African women.” A 2013 example of this type of garment is a dress ensemble, in red, yellow and green, by Dutch designer Inge van Lierop (who was looking to nineteenth-century tailoring for inspiration), which features a fitted, long-sleeve top with a high collar and puffed shoulders of one pattern and an extravagantly voluminous skirt of a second pattern depicting traditional icons of African-print design, like fans, hands with coins and Bunch of Bananas, on pedestals—regally celebrating the cyclical nature of African-print fashion.

Today many African fashion designers, regardless of whether they are trained and based in Africa or the diaspora, embrace African-print fashion, according to Kristyne S. Loughran, who notes that, “Its aesthetic creates a direct and immediate visual link to Africa.” Lisa Folawiyo created a short dress in 2016 that combines two prints with detailed hand-embellishment—small beads sewn on the wedge of leaf-patterned fabric in the skirt and in the white dots above the waist, while Ituen Bassey, an award-winning designer from Nigeria who is partly based in London, designed a short dress in 2009 with glowing rainbow bands of African-print cloth that reference a tradition of patchwork. A standout example of this transnational connection is a dress designed by a teenager in New Jersey in 2015 to wear to prom; Kyemah McEntyre captured the attention of social media with her long-sleeved, décolletage, full-skirted gown of the Angelina pattern, quickly becoming a fashion sensation and sparking a vogue for African-print prom dresses.

BÉATRICE MANOVAN, DESIGNER. DRESS, Abidjan, 2016. SALOME LENANA wears a two-piece West African-style taille basse outfit, locally made in Nairobi, Kenya, 1994. Photograph by Leslie W. Rabine. NICOLE AMIEN, DESIGNER. TWO-PIECE ENSEMBLE, wax print, Uniwax, Côte d’Ivoire, 2016.

WALÉ OYÉJIDÉ, DESIGNER FOR IKIRÉ JONES. MAN’S JACKET, trousers and scarf of African-print cloth, Untold Renaissance collection, 2014.

Alex Temomanin, from Côte d’Ivoire, who established his Dent de Man brand in London, handpicks each print used in his garments based on its emotional resonance to his own experiences and its universal storytelling capacity. His trimly tailored man’s suit of a Vlisco spiderweb print, Les Toiles D’araignée conveys how as a teenager he felt trapped in a web—trying to figure out his identity, dealing with the fragility of poverty—and how he found comfort in fabrics, which were often his only toys as a child.

A man’s black-tie ensemble, designed by Nigerian-born Walé Oyéjidé for Ikiré Jones, the Philadelphia-based label he established with his partner Sam Hubler in 2013, features a red-printed jacket, black pants and a silk scarf. The scarf, from the Untold Renaissance collection, depicts an African man in eighteenth-century European garb against a collage of conventional European imagery. The textile raises issues related to immigration and, according to the label’s website, “the absence of persons of color in Medieval and Renaissance-era European art,” while relying on “the sampling method used in hip hop culture.” (A related Ikiré Jones scarf appeared in the recent blockbuster movie and fashion tour-de-force Black Panther.)

Diablos (Maguette Traore), a graffiti artist and designer from Senegal, explains, “I use African elements, like le wax. You just have to delve into your parental values, your ancestral values,” and Leslie W. Rabine writes that, “like other Dakar streetwear designers, he makes African print a deeply symbolic component of Senegalese hip-hop.” One of his outfits comprises a handpainted T-shirt with shrimp-printed chaya (traditional baggy, low-crotched pants).

DEEP DAKART, DESIGNER FOR MIZÉRABLES GRAFFF. HOODIE AND T-SHIRT of African-print cloth, 2016. Photograph by Leslie W. Rabine.


In this increasingly interconnected world, African-print fashion is an appropriate rallying point for African cultural identity. The catalogue for African-Print Fashion Now!, as did the recent exhibition, allows room for and even celebrates the complexity of its subject. The project brought together work by award-winning couturiers, unidentified seamstresses and many young designers, augmenting it with selections of accessories wrapped in prints, photography and contemporary art to convey the range of production and the cultural permeation of African-print cloth. Hassan Hajjaj’s stunning Afrikan Boy from 2012, a large photograph in a frame of sardine tins, combines art with fashion, showing a well-dressed man with an umbrella and a myriad of patterns. Essayist Hansi Momodu-Gordon writes of “the empowered individuality of [Hajjaj’s] subjects, who are not bound by singular definitions but appear as citizens of a global exchange of ideas,” words that could apply to all who wear African-print fashion.

 
 

HASSAN HAJJAJ. Afrikan Boy, 2012, My Rock Stars Volume 2 series; Metallic Lambda print on 3mm Dibond in wood frame with Geisha maquereau tins, 136 x 93 centimeters. Private Collection.

 
 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The quotations cited are drawn from essays written for the catalogue African Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style.

SUGGESTED READING
Gott, Suzanne, Kristyne S. Loughran, Betsy D. Quick, and Leslie W. Rabine.
African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2017. 
African-Print Fashion Now! Videos from the Fowler Museum: https://www.fowler.ucla.edu/exhibitions/african-print-fashion-now

“African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style” showed at the Mint Museum Randolph, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 7, 2018 - April 28, 2019; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, Tennessee, February 24 - August 12, 2018; Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles, California, March 26 - July 30, 2017.

 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts and craft. She has written books and curated exhibitions on sisters Ilonka and Mariska Karasz, Hungarian-born modern designers based in New York, and Henry Eugene Thomas, a Colonial Revival furniture craftsman from Athens. In 2015, the University of Georgia Press published her book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion. This issue, she writes about the use of Dutch Vlisco wax print fabrics by African designers, in an article entitled “African-Print Fashion: Transnational Flair.”

Saul Bell Design Award Volume 41.2

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DEBBIE SHEEZEL: Lineal Alchemy neckpiece of enamel, twenty-four, twenty-two, eighteen karat yellow gold, fine and sterling silver, platinum, and diamonds. Australia. Best of Show. All photographs courtesy of Rio Grande.

Εach spring the announcement of the Saul Bell Design Award never fails to amaze. Ornament looks forward to the results and by 2009 began regularly covering the juried competition. First held in 2001, the award has been a vibrant showcase for diverse and fascinating works by established, well-recognized artists like Barbara Berk, Valerie Jo Coulson, Genevieve Flynn, David Freda, Mary Hicklin, Amy Roper Lyons, Wayne Meeten, Kent Raible, Jayne Redman, Kathleen Nowak Tucci, and Robin Waynee. Initially and primarily domestic, the award has become increasingly international, and this year finalists from Australia, Canada, China, India, and the Netherlands have infused it with a decidedly global spirit.

VALERIE JO COULSON: The Echinacea Teapot of sterling silver, pink rhodonite and chrysoprase. Pennsylvania. Second Place Hollowware/Art Objects.

Enamel has always been a potent force in the competition and Best of Show for 2019 was awarded to Debbie Sheezel from Melbourne, Australia. A felicitous embarrassment of riches, other winning artists in the medium included Sandra McEwen, Sydney Scheer, Garen Garibian, and Lillian Jones.

Rio Grande sponsors the Saul Bell Design Award, named in honor of its founder. Known by professionals who make jewelry or aspire to the craft, the company, since 1944, has been identified with its jewelrymaking products. Bell’s legacy, and reflected in the company’s mission today, is one that understands the importance of learning and mastery as integral to the creative life. To that end Rio Grande established its Emerging Jewelry Artist Awards for young artists eighteen years or younger and twenty-two years of age or younger. One of them, Timo Krapf, won First Place with Open Spiculum Cuff with Black Diamond, an eighteen karat gold cuff stimulated by his exploration of anticlastic knots. Krapf is a recent graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology and says that he was inspired by his mother, noted jeweler Barbara Heinrich, and her studio, where she designs and makes her jewelry; additionally he has served apprenticeships with Michael Good, known for his anticlastic raising.

TIMO KRAPF: Open Spiculum Cuff of eighteen karat yellow gold and black diamond. New York. Emerging Jewelry Artist Twenty-Two Years of Age or Younger.

Best of Show winner Debbie Sheezel began working with enamels on large format paintings and murals. She studied gold and silversmithing at RMIT University in Melbourne and later taught enameling there. Sheezel is on the council of the Gold & Silversmiths Guild of Australia and recently won the Australian Jewellery Design Award for 2019. This is her second Saul Bell Design Award.

Lineal Alchemy, her neckpiece was inspired by tribal implements and other cultural artifacts. In her artist statement Sheezel writes: “The continuous exploration of the medium of enamel on precious metal is an ongoing adventure for me as an artist/enameler/jeweler. On discovering enamel I marveled at the brilliance and intensity of color. The opportunity of using these colors in a palette was unlimited, with the added choices of transparency, opacity and opalescence.” The artist has been practicing her craft for more than forty-five years and undoubtedly speaks to many fellow practitioners about the power of passionate involvement in this artform and, as she says, “constantly trying to push the boundaries of this very difficult” medium.

The Saul Bell Design Award for 2020 is now open to submissions until October 25, 2019, with detailed information on its website, www.saulbellaward.com.

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and our in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the USA in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. The next shows she is looking forward to attending are the American Craft Exposition at the Chicago Botanic Garden and Smithsonian Craft2Wear at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as the American Craft Council Conference in Philadelphia. In this issue she discusses awards for this year’s Saul Bell Design Award competition sponsored by Rio Grande.

Museum For Islamic Art Volume 41.2

HAMSA AMULET of silver, gilt, Fez, Morocco, circa 1930. Photograph by Ardon Barhama. Gross Family Collection. Images courtesy of the Museum for Islamic Art, Jerusalem.

Located in the heart of Jerusalem, a city sacred to the three main monotheistic religions, the Museum for Islamic Art is an independent cultural institution dedicated to raising public awareness of Islamic art and culture—a one of a kind in Israel. In addition to its importance as a museum, it serves as a cultural and educational center, as well as a multicultural bridge that connects different sectors of Israeli society—Arabs and Jews, ultraorthodox and secular—while promoting dialogue based on tolerance, mutual respect and equality.

It is a repository for thousands of works of art, including gold and silver artifacts, jewelry and musical instruments, and offers to visitors a rare glimpse of one of the world’s special collections, which tells the story of the Islamic world from the seventh to the nineteenth century. Its exhibition halls are arranged in chronological and geographical order, in accordance with the various dynasties. In addition to the permanent collections of Islamic art, the museum houses the rare permanent collection of clocks which belonged to Sir David Salomons. It is one of the three most important collections in the world, with dozens of clocks of different types, sizes and colors.

The current exhibition, “Jewelry Making: Past & Present,” creates a fascinating dialogue based on the universal language of jewelrymaking, between Islam, Judaism and Christianity, between cultures and ethnic identities, tradition and renewal, and between past and present. Curated by renowned art historian, Dr. Iris Fishof, the exhibition exemplifies the museum’s vision to promote dialogue between the different identities within the Israeli society.

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EXHIBITION INSTALLATION  for “Jewelry Making: Past & Present” at the Museum for Islamic Art.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION for “Jewelry Making: Past & Present” at the Museum for Islamic Art.

The exhibition is comprised of original jewelry created by forty-five Israeli artists, inspired by rare Islamic jewelry pieces from the museum’s collection. Displayed side-by-side, the contemporary interpretations of the pieces featured in the exhibition are personal and intimate creations that express emotions, ideas and sometimes, even defiance. Their work expands the boundaries of jewelrymaking and offers a new artistic genre which is gradually revealed to the visitor. The variety of Islamic jewelry artifacts are rich and expansive in artistic, technical and cultural terms, and cover a very wide historical period, dating back to the seventh century. These artifacts provided the Israeli artists and jewelers with an inspirational platform, carrying thoughts about the old world and the new world, about the past and future, identity, tradition, and change. Despite the great variety, the content of their works takes a sincere and courageous approach to time and place, and do not shy away from addressing social and political issues.

INSIGNIA: 50 SHADES OF PATRIARCHY LAPEL PINS by Rami Tareef, of silver, brass, gold; lost-wax casting, soldering, sawing, bending, gilding, 10.0 x 5.0 x 1.0 centimeters, 2019.

For example, Rami Tareef exhibits Insignia: 50 Shades of Patriarchalism, a pin-based work which comprises fifty men’s lapel pins with an olive pip made of silver, representing the hierarchy of the Arabic man’s patriarchy. The work is designed to shed light on the changing, or “softening” patriarchal approach of the new Arab man, and to generate dialogue about his role in the family unit, and in society in general.

Paying homage to a nineteenth-century Moroccan Berber fertility jewel, decorated with silver and enamel symbols to ward off the evil eye, Rill Greenfeld created a pendant inspired by the amulet. Her piece, Fertility Now, a plastic box with contraceptive pills inside and around the pendant, utilized the birth control pills in its design and purpose.

BEAD WITH COIN PENDANTS of silver, cloisonné enamel, coins, filigree, 12.0 x 7.0 x 5.5 centimeters, Western Anti-Atlas, Morocco, nineteenth century. FERTILITY NOW PENDANT by Rill Greenfeld, of sterling silver, photopolymer plastic, pill blister; 3D printing, casting, soldering, 8.2 x 8.4 x 4.5 centimeters, 2019. Images courtesy of the Museum for Islamic Art, Jerusalem. Photographs by Shay Ben Efraim, except where noted.

What’s the ‘Matter’? is a contemporary and personal piece made of tin strips taken from a preservatives tin can, electrical wiring, computer parts, and everyday industrial materials. Jewelry artist Merav Rahat took inspiration from a nineteenth-century silver Moroccan necklace with coral, amber and glass beads, enamel, and other materials. Rahat touches on the physical and emotional baggage in the materials she uses, looking at questions of identity, place and memory in the globalization era.

NECKLACE of silver, coral, amber, glass beads, cloisonné enamel, 62.0 centimeters length, Dra’a Valley, Morocco, late nineteenth century. WHAT’S THE ‘MATTER’ NECKPIECE by Merav Rahat, of tin-can sheet metal, electric wire, tricot fabric, nuts and bolts, discs, computer elements, jewelry parts, plastic elements, old bottle caps, branches; coiling, tying, threading, 30.0 x 20.0 x 9.0 centimeters, 2019.

The contemporary interpretations were made especially for the exhibition and act as an extension of the boundaries of jewelrymaking as a contemporary artistic field, both in a conceptual, technical and material standpoint. Despite the great diversity, the pieces relate to the time and place in which we live, sincere and daring, and were made in response to social and political issues.

Also included is a collection of ecclesiastical metalwork from the Franciscan Order that has never been exhibited to the public. These sacred objects date from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries and have been accumulated throughout the centuries from European nobles who regularly sent money and goods to assist the Franciscans charged with looking after the sanctuaries in Jerusalem. A selection of Jewish vessels and amulets originating from the Levant are showcased from the private collection of William Gross. These pieces reflect the style and culture of their respective eras and regions, as well as the mutual language of folk art that served both Jews and Muslims. In addition, an exhibition spotlight is focused on the works of Yemenite goldsmithing, a local profession for hundreds of years and on the jewelry of the late singer, Ofra Haza.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION  focusing on artifacts from the three monotheistic religions.

EXHIBITION INSTALLATION focusing on artifacts from the three monotheistic religions.

“Jewelry Making: Past & Present” offers a prideful place to a unique display of jewelry works from the three monotheistic religions for which Jerusalem is sacred. The variety of these works, which were designed for ceremonies or rituals, offers a broad view of the artistic language, materials and techniques used by jewelers from these religions.

“Jewelry Making: Past & Present” shows May 30, 2019 - November 16, 2019 at the Museum for Islamic Art,
2 Hapalmach St., Jerusalem, Israel 9254202. Visit their website at
www.islamicart.co.il/english.

 

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Nadim Sheiban, Director of the Museum for Islamic Art, is the first Arab museum director in Israel. He began his studies at the Hebrew University in 1972. He was a social worker and jurist, and for many years worked in social and community work and served in senior positions at the Welfare Department of the Jerusalem Municipality. In the last decade, Sheiban served as Director of the Jerusalem Foundation Projects Department, where he initiated and managed various projects in the fields of community and education. For five years, he also directed the Culture Department, which initiated projects in the fields of art and culture in the city.

Ron Ho Retrospective Volume 41.2

FIRST BORN NECKPIECE  of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with pair of fabricated copper children’s shoes, silver twine ball and leather, 1990.  FIRST BIRTHDAY NECKPIECE  of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with chair mat from Ming dynasty chair, fabricated silver chopsticks and platter of noodles, which represent long life in China, 1990.  VANISHED WISHES NECKPIECE  of forged and fabricated silver with leather and enameling, 1990.  Photographs courtesy of Bellevue Arts Museum.

FIRST BORN NECKPIECE of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with pair of fabricated copper children’s shoes, silver twine ball and leather, 1990. FIRST BIRTHDAY NECKPIECE of forged and fabricated silver Chinese chair, with chair mat from Ming dynasty chair, fabricated silver chopsticks and platter of noodles, which represent long life in China, 1990. VANISHED WISHES NECKPIECE of forged and fabricated silver with leather and enameling, 1990. Photographs courtesy of Bellevue Arts Museum.

ALL FALL DOWN II NECKPIECE of silver, ebony, domino, and found objects, 1981. A breakthrough for Ho was represented by this gift to Ramona Solberg. “One evening Ramona brought me an ivory domino piece and some old bone underwear buttons. I placed these on a piece of paper with some bone heishi beads and some pieces of ebony. It was the beginning foundation of my work as a jewelry artist.”

Ron Ho was a cultural explorer who used his keen eye for beauty and design to create exquisite jewelry resonant with narrative and poetry. Like a Marco Polo of jewelry art, he traveled the world, especially Asia, and wove the artifacts and aesthetics he foraged on those travels into jewelry that sometimes referenced his own Chinese heritage, and always celebrated the quotidian beauty and joy he found everywhere he went.

Ron Tau Wo Ho, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most beloved artists, died in 2017 at age eighty.  During his lifetime his work was in constant demand by collectors and museums. He was a direct descendant of a rich jewelrymaking legacy that for decades revolved around a legendary jewelry program at the University of Washington. Ho was an enthusiastic collector of folk art, ethnic jewelry and museum-quality textiles, and a career public school art teacher. All aspects of his remarkable life are wonderfully presented in “Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale,” at Bellevue Arts Museum.

 
 
RON HO  wearing Lepidoptera, 1976.  LUCITE BASKET  containing bone and ivory buttons and other elements for use in his jewelry.  RENDERING  of Ho’s home for fifty-four years, designed by architect Paul Thiry originally as his own home.  HO’S STUDIO  includes a photograph of his dear friend, mentor and fellow artist, Ramona Solberg.  CACHE  of tools in his studio. Ho said: “As I became more skilled, I could see how I could develop the construction so that the pieces could flow together to give life to a stiff piece of metal and make it actually flow.”  HO  is wearing First Birthday and one of his signature handmade silk shirts.

RON HO wearing Lepidoptera, 1976. LUCITE BASKET containing bone and ivory buttons and other elements for use in his jewelry. RENDERING of Ho’s home for fifty-four years, designed by architect Paul Thiry originally as his own home. HO’S STUDIO includes a photograph of his dear friend, mentor and fellow artist, Ramona Solberg. CACHE of tools in his studio. Ho said: “As I became more skilled, I could see how I could develop the construction so that the pieces could flow together to give life to a stiff piece of metal and make it actually flow.” HO is wearing First Birthday and one of his signature handmade silk shirts.

 
 

The exhibition is co-curated by Benedict Heywood, BAM’s Executive Director and Chief Curator, and Nancy Loorem Adams, Vice President of Northwest Designer Craftsmen, and presented by the museum and Northwest Designer Craftsmen. Ho’s life partner, the artist Peter Olsen, also participated, enriching the exhibition by loans of Ho’s folk collections, Ho’s studio and a section of their elegant, folk-art filled living room. Ho’s studio is installed in its entirety, cheerfully cluttered with tools, paints, brushes, strings of beads collected who-knows-where, CDs, and books.

GUM SAN JOURNEY NECKPIECE of Merlin’s gold and copper, with Chinese antique porcelain jar fragment, Chinese antique fabricated silver artifact, feather, and silver, 1996. BEARS RELIQUARY of found objects, Tibetan reliquary, felted dog hair, Eskimo ulu knife, Eskimo snowshoe grip, antler, Afghanistan bone carving, with forged and fabricated silver, 2008. LIMEHOUSE BLUES REVISITED NECKPIECE of fabricated silver, pierced and fabricated copper, Prisma color pencil, plexiglass, and leather, 2015.

There are twenty-five jewelry pieces made by Ho in the exhibition. Several were made after BAM’s 2006 Ho retrospective, “Dim Sum at the On-On Tea Room: The Jewelry of Ron Ho.” The newer pieces confirm that even in his final years Ho was a master maker whose design skills were undiminished. In 2010 he made Limehouse Blues Revisited, an homage to a 1934 film noir set in London’s Chinatown. The piece was part of a group show and Ho was required to make his piece relate to 1934. Ho managed to create a visual haiku of traditional and stereotypical Chinese imagery, polished with his usual sheen of joy and exuberance.

A more personal neckpiece was Bears Reliquary, 2008.  The piece was commissioned by a man in honor of his beloved Malamute dog, named Bear. It incorporates found objects from Tibet, Afghanistan and native Alaskans, as well as felted dog hair. With its bits of carved bone and shards of native tools, the neckpiece suggests cultures living in harmony with nature, despite hardships. It is an extraordinary celebration of the companionship and respect between the dog and his human. 

ORCHID DRAGON GALAXY NECKPIECE  of Chinese jade, sandstone carvings, porcelain butterfly, diamonds, forged and fabricated eighteen and fourteen karat gold, shakudo, shibuichi, elastic cording, 2018. After Ho’s death, the neckpiece was completed by his friend and jewelry artist Nadine Kariya, partially following the sketch provided by Ho.

ORCHID DRAGON GALAXY NECKPIECE of Chinese jade, sandstone carvings, porcelain butterfly, diamonds, forged and fabricated eighteen and fourteen karat gold, shakudo, shibuichi, elastic cording, 2018. After Ho’s death, the neckpiece was completed by his friend and jewelry artist Nadine Kariya, partially following the sketch provided by Ho.

One of the newest pieces in the show is Orchid Dragon Galaxy, a neckpiece of Chinese jade, sandstone carvings, diamonds, and a found porcelain butterfly, all forged and fabricated with silver, like nearly all of Ho’s jewelry.  Ho was working on it as he died, and it was finished, in 2018, by his friend, the Seattle jewelry artist Nadine Kariya. In this neckpiece, as in so much of his work, Ho distills traditional Asian design elements into jewelry with compelling cross-cultural references. It is elegant and timeless. It could be the neckpiece for a queen in China, Afghanistan, or anywhere the viewer’s imagination takes her. 

There are old favorites, such as First Birthday, 1990, a neckpiece of a forged and fabricated traditional-looking Chinese chair and a platter of noodles with chopsticks. The piece refers to the historic importance of the first-born child in China, and the family’s dreams for his future. Also on display is Borobudur, 1986, a majestic neckpiece of varnished teak, silver and ivory suggesting a ship under full sail heading to points unknown. The piece is named for the famous ninth-century Buddhist temple in Central Java, and it could easily inspire seekers on spiritual or oceanic journeys. 

Most pieces are loaned from private collections, though some are from the collection of the Tacoma Art Museum. The earliest pieces date to 1975, when Ho was just beginning to explore his Chinese heritage through art. Born in Hawaii to Chinese immigrants on both sides of the family, Ho attended college in Tacoma, Washington, then embarked on a teaching career in schools in Bellevue, Washington. He was a painter and taught art. But his life changed when he took a class at the University of Washington taught by Ramona Solberg, a towering and highly influential figure in the Pacific Northwest jewelry community. At first Solberg was his mentor, encouraging him to explore his Chinese heritage as a subject for his contemporary jewelrymaking. Later the duo became close friends and travel companions who bargained for folk art and jewelry across several continents.

An excellent documentary on Ho runs continuously in the gallery, and it includes long interludes of Ho talking about his life and his art. There are also three of the elaborate Chinese silk jackets he collected, jewelry made for him by friends, including Solberg, and about twenty-five of the rainbow-colored silk shirts he had custom made when he traveled in Asia. He was an artist who saw beauty everywhere he went, and it delighted him. This exhibition is a worthy tribute to one of the Pacific Northwest’s most singular jewelry artists, and a reminder of how much he is missed.

“Ron Ho: A Jeweler’s Tale” shows May 10 - September 15, 2019 at the Bellevue Arts Museum,
510 Bellevue Way, N.E., Bellevue, Washington 98004. Visit their website at
www.bellevuearts.org.

 

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Robin Updike is a keen, long-time observer of the Pacific Northwest jewelry scene and has interviewed many of the region’s vibrant jewelrymakers for Ornament. Among them is artist Ron Ho, with Updike writing a profile of Ho in advance of his 2006 retrospective at the Bellevue Arts Museum. For this edition, she reviewed a new exhibition on Ho’s life and work at BAM: “I was pleased to discover that the new exhibition does a wonderful job of showing how Ron’s life, family, education, teaching career and friendships all wove together holistically when he made his singular jewelry. Seeing his beautiful collection of silk shirts, a smattering of the folk art treasures he collected around the world, and photos of him with his great friend Ramona Solberg was a lovely reminder of his legacy in the Seattle’s art and jewelry communities.”