Jewelry in a political context

Article  /  CriticalThinking
Published: 22.12.2010
Jewelry in a political context.
Sofia Björkman
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I care a lot - portable discussion on the Middle East has ended after its third exhibition.
During the exhibition in gallery Platina we brought together three multidisciplinary discussion groups with 29 participants in total. I would like to share with you the summary of these conversations.

The theme was; Jewelry in a political context.

Does political jewelry art exist?
It is problematic to categorize jewelry art and it simultaneously simplifies discussions and descriptions of what we do. It’s even more difficult to assign political jewelry art its own genre, since we as a rule are talking about subjectively narrative jewelry which questions power rather than to defend it.

What is it we call political jewelry art?
Art and jewelry art visualize issues, show or illustrate problems and create fields for researching. Politics searches for answers and solutions. In order to seek answers to the question of what is called political jewelry art, we must ask questions and seek answers within both jewelry art and politics. A political jewel contains therefore both artistic and political qualities. Some jewelry derives from or refers to political issues, but what is political depends on time and the political state because what was political in the past may not be political today.

How do we define a piece of jewelry as political?
A piece of jewelry’s political meaning is not only an effect of its purpose. Some jewelry is made to provoke a reaction or simply be to raise questions in the viewer’s mind but it’s the fact that everyone sees pieces differently. Other pieces are not intended to be political, but are used in a context that makes them extremely political. Art can criticize but also serve different interests. Art can also be used for political purposes with or without the artist’s intention. One who wears a piece of jewelry can choose what it will mean for the moment, but a piece of jewelry’s actual meaning and function, do not lie within each viewer’s opinion, it's a mixture of aspects. What defines jewelry politically is an interaction between its creator and its users: the artists, curators, the wearer, the viewer and media.
“It´s the relationship between everything that matters and a high emotional level makes it all come together,” – Åsa Lockner said.

What is the difference between political jewelry and political art?
Jewelry has the history and references of jewelry and using jewelry and art in political contexts differs. As both are dependent upon political qualities, the historical, political references can have the same roots, but they tell different stories because of their different references.
”Jewelry works in a political context in the way that you carry around a piece of art. You use yourself in the act,” says Martin Wickström.
This applies to the act of wearing jewelry. The difference between jewelry’s political message when being worn and in exhibition contexts is therefore not the jewelry’s message per se, but the difference lies in the wearer’s actions.

What is the role of the artist in a political context?
Making art is a way to highlight certain things. The artists have to illustrate, create and communicate, visualise social experiences and observations. Stefan Foconi said, “As long as we can create we still believe in possibilities.”
Communicating doesn’t mean that people understand each other. To communicate interculturally is difficult, since symbols’ meanings vary and are experienced differently. So are materials as symbols, colours as symbols and so on. For example, a common material in one country is too strong for another.
There are so many voices going on and different political messages to be aware and scared of. “Making is a way of reflecting what we are thinking of,” says Beatrice Brovia.
An artist’s art refers to his or her life experiences and the experiences are used as tools. Life and work goes hand in hand.
“The artist’s art is always about the artist him or herself. That is art,” said Martin Wickström.

Artists are making communicating objects. Afterward, others step in and read the objects and influence their meaning and spread various messages, in accordance or differing with those of the originator.
Jon Brunberg said, “Artists who have the ambition to work in a political context, need to take a step out of the art sphere and the artistic independence. They cannot only work with art; they have to work with politics to achieve the goal. It has to be necessary.”

Artists can make art with political values and politicians can work with artistic approaches.
“For me, jewelry embodies a kind of immortality... the ability to stretch a single moment out into infinity,” said Adam Grinovich.

What is the role of a curator in a political context?
A piece of jewelry can be political in an exhibit, depending on the context. Here it is more the artist’s and curator’s intention than the piece’s function that defines it politically. The curator decides what is to be shown and in which context. To a certain extent even the exposure, in the choice of audience and invited visitors. An exhibit is like framing thoughts and questions. An exhibit is a way to educate an audience.
Vered Kaminski said, “In a gallery, people understand that the pieces are wearable if they are shown in a jewelry context.”
And, as Dana Hakim said, “Even if a piece is not wearable and the function part is missing, you can still recognize it as a jewelry piece, because of the context.”

What is the role of the wearer in a political context?
After putting a piece of jewelry on - then the acting starts. When talking about wearing, we don’t talk about art, then we are talking about acting. (Barring performance art). The difference between art activism and activism is that the first is questioning while the second already has an answer.
We can use jewelry art pieces as tools in acts for political issues. A wearer is always a part of a jewel’s history. The wearer adds something to the piece.
To wear a jewel means that you expose it for others to react to. You use it as a marker for political views. It is a matter of statement and a way to signify your mood. Wearing a jewelry art piece is a matter of questioning and a way to signify your mood. Wearing a well-chosen jewel can be an invitation to a conversation and a method to create encounters. The human body can be seen as a window, dressed to show the wearer’s will and questions. There is jewelry made with the intention to be mass-produced and be worn by many to spread statements to a large populace. Wearing campaign buttons for example tell us that the wearer agrees with ideas from groups or organizations but nothing of the wearer’s personal statement. It’s important to separate propaganda from criticism.
There is also jewelry that is unique and not wearable but a piece of jewelry doesn’t have to be wearable to be a jewel.

Can you wear something that actually changes people’s ideas? Is it just a wish? Questions from Auli Laitinen.
There is a difficulty in determining which art will eventually make a difference and which art was meant to make a difference and fell into obscurity.
Because we don’t know from before what will make a change. During history art has been important in political contexts. Even small intentions can be important and bigger in future.
“Small things can be strong and penetrate to defend,” said Sara Kristoffersson.
It´s almost all jewellers’ wish, that jewelry art pieces will be worn outside the gallery space. Reaching a large audience means a shift from fine art to popular culture and, since art jewelry is a small art form, associated with fine art and status; it is a difficult equation to solve. In the exhibit I care a lot, Jan Turzo shows bracelets in silicon and barbed wire, with which he hopes to reach a great variety of people. It is still the idea that is the decisive aspect, since it hurts to wear the bracelets and they cost quite a bit more than the rubber bracelets we see on the street. Reaching a wide group with the help of art jewelry happens rather more often through discussions and the ”butterfly effect”.
In politics, the public is regarded as important and it is allowed to participate in discussions. In art, there is a fear that the public isn’t qualitative enough. Pieces can elevate without being good in the meaning of artistic quality.
Wearing most of the jewelry art in the exhibit in politically sensitive countries would perhaps be seen as irony. Irony, humor and banality are effective tools for dealing with difficult situations, simultaneously they can damage and spread stupidity. “Does it help or does it hurt?” asks Shari Pierce.

Jewelry in the private, public and political spheres
Jewelry can be worn in the private and public spheres, but where is the boundary and what do we mean when we talk of private and public? We can ask ourselves if freedom of speech is applicable when wearing jewelry. Freedom of speech belongs to a democracy. But a democracy’s worse enemy is the democracy itself.
Jewelry art is not of a documentary nature. We can discuss authenticity, but not the production of truths or answers. The production of truths within politics is closely associated with power and conflicts are always depending on understanding, egotism and civil rights.

As long as we live in a social, cultural world, we belong to a political establishment and therefore, anything can be called political. As long as there are hierarchies and as long as the ways of seeing are hierarchical, we can say that jewelry is always political, since no jewelry is neutral or isolated from the social sphere.

If everything is political does the discussion end, or start?
Jenny Edllund said, “It´s the core of conflicts. To realize afterwards that you should think and do things in another way.”

Sofia Björkman
Platina 2010

Participants in the discussions have been:

Sofia Björkman – Platina
Jenny Edlund – artist- jewelry/hollowwear /Platina
Dana Hakim – jewelry artist and initiator of I care a lot
Joseph Bregovic´– graphic designer and initiator of I care a lot
Shari Pierce– artist/ jewelry artist
Margot Barolo – artist/designer
Martin Wickström – artist
Jon Brunberg– artist
Sara Kristoffersson – Ph.D. Guest Professor, Design History and Theory Konstfack
Linda Shamma Östrand - artist
Inger Wästberg
Rikard Ehnsiö - Ph.D. on the middle east conflicts
Agnieszka Knap – jewelry artist
Agnes Larsson – jewelry artist
Sara Borgegård – jewelry artist
Anders Ljungberg – jewelry artist
Mirjam Norinder – jewelry artist
Beatrice Brovia - jewelry artist
Auli Laitinen- jewelry artist
Tracy Steepy – Associate Professor Rhode Island School, US
Vered Kaminski - jewelry artist/Professor
Dganit Stern Shoken - jewelry artist
Stefan Foconi – writer, specialized in the middle east area
Åsa Lockner – jewelry artist
Adam Grinovich – jewelry artist
Annika Pettersson – jewelry artist
Andrea Hvistendal - artist
Sara Teleman – IASPIS, grapich designer/ illustrator
Anonymous artist /designer from Iran

The discussions have been supported by; the Art Grants Committee Sweden, Estrid Ericsons foundation and Längmanska foundation.

About the author

Sofia Björkman is a jewellery artist and curator. She runs Gallery Platina in Stockholm.