Joya Brava: Marking a Decade of Existence. Establishing Ties, Building Identity, Forging a Scene

Article  /  Artists   LilianaOjeda
Published: 20.10.2020
Liliana Ojeda Liliana Ojeda
Liliana Ojeda
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Joya Brava is a trade association founded in 2010, with the goal of joining forces to give visibility to Chilean jewelry and add Chilean voices to the cultural scene both nationally and internationally. Its members want to provide space to develop their proposals and have experiences of collective creation, to organize quality group exhibitions. At the same time, they wish to educate the public in understanding this discipline. Because Joya Brava is a trade association, it receives financial support from various government agencies to carry out its projects, allowing it to fulfill its dream of positioning Chilean artists in the international contemporary jewelry scene.
In a decade, Joya Brava has organized seven relevant group exhibitions with the mentorship of experienced experts such as Rolando Baez, Jorge Manilla, Jorge Castañón, and Francisca Kweitel. Ten years after the association’s founding, the term "contemporary jewelry" is no longer unknown in Chile.
Joya Brava’s Origins
I love the metaphor of the "butterfly effect" because it explains the birth of our association. It took traveling 6,600 kilometers from Chile to attend the Gray Area Symposium in Mexico, to visualize for the first time that we were many. At that moment we realized we wanted to do so much more than just work alone, producing and selling jewelry. As soon as we returned home from that enriching experience, we set to work on our project of founding a Chilean trade association. At that time there were only four of us who pushed the idea, and we knew each other but little, but that didn’t matter because we had found a deep cause to become friends.
We all had our workspaces in the bohemian Bellavista neighborhood in Santiago, which became the setting for our meetings and after-work outings. Pamela de la Fuente had a jewelry school, which became our meeting center. Pía Walker, Massiel Muñoz, and I had just started our jewelry-making ventures. We shared a workshop in a heritage house in the neighborhood. At first, an association seemed like a distant dream because we would need 25 local jewelers to sign up and make a legal commitment for the guild to be founded. It took about six months to plan, organize, and make our project a reality.
Finally, on October 21, 2010, a group of 33 jewelers met at Pamela's school to sign the statutes and celebrate the founding of Joya Brava (which translates to Brave Jewel), the first Chilean contemporary jewelry trade association. 
I will never forget that at that time Chile was in the international headlines because 33 miners were trapped inside the earth at a depth of 720 meters. After 69 days of despair, they were all rescued alive, just a week before Joya Brava was born. Strange coincidence, I thought. We were also a group of 33 who seemed to emerge from the earth full of hope, collaborating for the founding of the contemporary jewelry guild. 

Joya Brava at Inhorgenta, Munich, 2013. Photo: Pamela de la Fuente.

Joya Brava founders (left to right): Massiel Muñoz, Liliana Ojeda, Pía Walker, and Pamela de la Fuente at Pamela's school, 2010. Photo: Liliana Ojeda.

Joya Brava seminar at the Museum of Decorative Arts, Santiago, 2015. Photo: Cristián Torrejón.

Who Are We and What We’ve Done 
In the past 10 years, around 60 jewelers have been part of Joya Brava. We have members just beginning their careers and others already established artists with important awards and recognitions. We’re all jewelry professionals, many with formal studies as diverse as art, design, architecture, sociology, and business. At first, the male presence in the group reached 10%, but today Joya Brava has only female members. However, the group is characterized by its diversity. 

I was part of the first board of Joya Brava, we had little experience leading a large group. We had to face great challenges. Because there were different levels of compromise and aspiration in the members, at times it became unmanageable to make everyone happy. We were ambitious from the beginning. An opportunity to host a major international exhibition failed halfway through, due to lack of experience. Our president and part of the board resigned from their positions due to stress. It wasn’t easy to get up from that blow. However, we continued, and after a while, the group was renewed. Some partners left and others arrived and, without realizing it, we evolved as humans and makers. What happened after the founding of Joya Brava felt like riding a roller coaster: exhibitions, fairs, traveling, tutorials, workshops, seminars, etc. For several years we couldn’t stop—one project led to another, and so on… Curiously, we never felt afraid to embark on any task, no matter how titanic.

Immediately after its founding, Joya Brava made a one-day launch in a room at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Contemporary Art), in Santiago, in conjunction with an exhibition of Ruudt Peters, from the Netherlands. That day, Peters made a special speech to the association, encouraging us to be strong to follow our dreams.

The following year, in 2011, came our first collective exhibition in Chile, and we called it Quiltro: De Origen Indefinido (Quiltro: Of Undefined Origin). Quiltro is the word for stray mutts in our country. We managed to set up this large exhibition at the Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda (La Moneda Cultural Center); we believe it was the first contemporary jewelry exhibition in Chile. Kevin Murray, from Australia, wrote the foreword to our first catalog. He defined Joya Brava as "a cohesive group that is established from scratch, to build a kingdom ruled by stray dogs, who build their own castle". We were so excited to show the Chilean public this new art form that we made such beginner mistakes as not giving the director of the center a chance to speak on the opening day!
This first exhibition reflected how we felt at that time: hybrids without race, with no place to live—in other words, quiltro jewelers. This first step was like reaching the moon because in Chile there was no platform for our proposals. The label of "jewelry" confused the audience, as the understanding of the term was completely traditional. We were jewelers with the attitudes of artists, and that convinced neither jewelry lovers nor art followers. Did the people who visited the exhibition understand what we were doing? 

Joya Brava's launch at the Museo de Arte Contemporanéo - MAC (Museum of Contemporary Art), Santiago, 2010. Photo: Patricio Feres.

Exhibition view, Quiltro, La Moneda Cultural Center, Santiago, 2011. Photo: Francisco Cárdenas.

Ring by Ana Nadjar, shown in Quiltro exhibition, 2011. Photo: Karen Clunes.

Later, with our overflowing courage, we continued to colonize formal art spaces, such as the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts), where we presented our second collective exhibition, called Cromática (Chromatic), in which every artist was assigned a color to include within a piece. It resulted in a very vibrant display of jewels. Joya Brava also mixed with the traditional side of Latin American jewelry by partnering with the Patronato Plata del Perú (Patronage of Silversmiths from Peru) to hold the Fifth Meeting of Silversmiths and First Meeting of Coppersmiths in Chile. More than 300 people attended, from Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Spain. It was something unprecedented in our country. This event marked the participants so profoundly that many initiatives were generated from that moment on—what I would call a second butterfly effect. We saw talented young people who decided to dedicate their lives to this discipline. Alongside this event, we created Epicentros (Epicenters), a month of exhibitions and talks organized in different parts of the country. These meetings left positive consequences that led to many jewelry projects which are still in force in Chile to this day.

The next major exhibition that Joya Brava organized was Persistencia Barroca (Baroque Persistence), and for the first time, we worked with the historian Rolando Baez, who imbued us with knowledge about the Latin American baroque. From that aesthetic matrix of excesses, the works emerged. Topics such as our mestizo identity, the Catholic religion imposed on the original inhabitants of our land, and the translation of these influences in the objects and paintings exhibited in the religious Museum of La Merced all inspired us to create a series of works freighted with a great emotional load.

But every time we put on a group exhibition, we were left with the same question: Did anyone understand what we were doing? Were we able to explain it ourselves? A cultural organization suggested we give guided tours of the exhibition. This exercise of explaining the works to the visitor helped us to deeply understand our discipline. 

Attendees at the Fifth Meeting of Silversmiths and First Meeting of Coppersmiths, Rancagua, Chile, 2013. Photo: Liliana Ojeda.

Neckpiece by Liliana Ojeda, shown in the Baroque Persistence exhibition, 2013. Photo: Karen Clunes.

Neckpiece by Camilo Moreira, shown in th Baroque Persistence exhibition, 2013. Photo: Valesca Cirano.

After these local experiences, we wrote our first guild manifesto, and we decided to be more strict when accepting new members because we wanted to have a more homogeneous group, people aligned with a common discourse. With this new approach, we earned the reputation of being a non-inclusive guild. 

Although we tried to spread our work locally, our main focus was Europe, where the concept of contemporary jewelry had been coined, where we believed there was a receptive audience. This was where we wanted to present ourselves; we wanted to swim in the same waters as those we admired. In 2013 we launched a stand at the Inhorgenta Munich international jewelry fair. We had the support of the Chilean government promotion agency for this project. Ricardo Domingo from Spain, worked with us making a selection of an exemplary group of jewelers. We traveled to Germany and showed the best of Chilean jewelry. For the first time, Chile was on the international jewelry map. 

For the next four exhibitions, we resorted to a very demanding working method, which consisted of a lengthy workshop where a concept proposed by a tutor was developed, pieces were selected, and a subsequent group exhibition was launched in Europe. Soon we were participating in Autor (Bucharest, Romania), Joya (Barcelona, Spain), Munich Jewellery Week (Germany), and Legnica Silver Festival (Poland). 

Being part of Joya Brava required not only producing quality work but also collaborating in the logistics that group exhibitions abroad implied. This created situations of great stress and fatigue, but also deep ties of friendship and opportunities for those who participated, especially for those who traveled to represent Joya Brava in Latin America and Europe. 

Joya Brava stand at Inhorgenta Munich, 2013. Photo: Pamela de la Fuente.

Joya Brava members (left to rigth): Marcos Honorato, Pamela de la Fuente, Vania Ruiz and Ricardo Domingo at Joya Barcelona, 2014. Photo: Paulina Latorre.

Our Artwork 
Chile is not an industrialized country. Our artworks are characterized by the many hours of manual labor that go into them, and few technological resources. It’s in our nature to promote the crafts of our region, and we have a delightful diversity of materials and techniques. Some members of Joya Brava have researched traditional crafts, reinventing them in their work by learning the techniques themselves, becoming masters of the craft, or commissioning expert craftsmen to make some components of a work. For example, Rita Soto explores micro basketry to make whimsical brooches with bulging forms and colorful tendrils, pushing a traditional technique to unexpected limits. And Valeria Martínez makes filigree artwork with copper, defying the possibilities of the fine wire and achieving amazing volume in her pieces.

In other cases, moved by admiration for ornamental practices such as weaving, flower arrangements, and interior decoration, other artists have incorporated the materials and methods used in popular contexts into their work. Vania Ruiz, for example, is inspired by childhood memories of her grandmother’s interior decoration with plastic flowers and fabric holsters. In her “Domestic Nature” series, she combines textiles and resin to build a garden of exuberant creatures. 

Loreto Fernandez rescued old bedsheets from her grandparents’ house to make her “Memorabilia” series, hand-sewn white pieces that represent what she calls “my life before me”. These valuable gestures re-signify and evolve traditional Chilean crafts and those of the Andean region. 
There’s a preference for the white and red of silver and copper. We live in a territory of strong mining activity; long before their colonization, the civilizations of America already worked with those metals. But we also venture into other materials, as varied as horsehair, textiles, porcelain and ceramics, paper, paint, wool, seaweed, rubber, resin, found objects, recycled materials, etc. 

Brooch by Rita Soto, shown in Commom Stories exhibition, 2019. Photo: Nicolás Nadjar.

Brooch by Valeria Martínez, shown in Interiors exhibition, 2019. Photo: Nicolás Nadjar.

Brooch by Vania Ruiz, shown in the Interiors exhibition , 2019. Photo: Nicolás Nadjar.

Neckpiece by Loreto Fernandez, shown in Interiors exhibition, 2016. Photo: Nicolás Nadjar.

What Have We Learned?
Joya Brava is a powerful group that can open many doors. I would describe it as a delicate engine with a few parts which sometimes, rather than meshing, feel like they’re dragging a large ship. No doubt passion plays a big role in this machine. With this association, we have allowed ourselves to be artists, moving from the commercial product to the work of art. The works developed in each project are increasingly elaborate, strong, and deep with meaning. It’s very moving to see the evolution over time of the artists, who seem to flourish with each project. In 10 years we’ve organized seven relevant group exhibitions with the mentorship of experienced experts such as Rolando Baez, from Chile; Jorge Manilla, from Mexico/Belgium; and Jorge Castañón and Francisca Kweitel, from Argentina. In these experiences, we’ve learned how to give shape and substance to our stories, pains, and hopes. 
Our work processes are getting more and more reflexive and extensive; rather than gleaning answers we come up with many new questions. The idea of elaborating on a new body of work for an exhibition is always very exciting because we meet again physically to start a path together. Those experiences give us a sense of belonging—we become accomplices of everyone’s work. I’ve noticed that some members’ interest in particular themes remains. Some artists insist on working with very peculiar systems, independently from the mentorship. For example, Ana Nadjar, in her last three series, worked under the philosophy of giving a second opportunity to materials. She managed to work with objects she found around her home, recycling not only the material but the history associated with the object, creating new stories around it. In her pieces for the Interiors exhibition, she created a dialogue between antagonistic materials, such as plastic bags and cardigan wool. 

As we explore our self-knowledge in these work processes, we discover that our genetic code works—what we’re making is a true reflection of ourselves, as unique as our DNA. With time, we’ve developed mature contemporary works of new value and commitment. We realize the importance of delivering quality in what we want to communicate, and that makes us very responsible for what we do. We discovered that we can work with what we have around us, in our daily life. This gesture of considering everyday themes and materials gives our works a sense of belonging because, through our work, we’re showing our personal and cultural identities. For, in the end, we do not only create jewelry; we also forge ties, trust, a scene, identity. We feel part of the building of Latin American jewelry today, bringing the presence of Chile to Europe. We are aware of being part of a story that is being written now, and there is still a lot to tell. 

Neckpiece by Ana Nadjar, shown in the Interiors exhibition, 2019. Photo: Nicolás Nadjar.

Exhibition view of Joyas Brava's Commom Stories exhibition, Centro de Artesanías Cataluña, Barcelona, 2017. Photo: Yael Olave.

What’s Next?
A time of reflection is coming. We realize that we must improve on sharing our knowledge. These times of pandemic have helped us to open ourselves through social networks to communicate and deliver content to our audience. Lately, we’ve been interacting with Latin American organizations to strengthen ties and forge our Latin American identity. 
We’re so proud to celebrate our first decade, and although dissolving is always a possibility, we look to the future with the idea not of expiring but of inspiring. We believe that it’s time to reinvent ourselves and prepare to welcome new generations. We dream the next decade with more desire to talk, engage with other disciplines, and reach new audiences. 

About the author

Liliana Ojeda is a Chilean artist based in Santiago, very active in the field of contemporary jewelry. She has a BA in Fine Arts & Sculpture from the Catholic University of Chile and a Master in Jewellery & Silversmithing from the University of Central England, UK. For her MA, she wrote the thesis “The Body in Jewellery”. During her stay in England, she won the recognition of the British Jewelers Association for her work with the technique of "Electroforming" (2003). In Chile, she was a co-founder and the vice-president of Joya Brava Association for four years. She has exhibited her work in the main fairs and art centers in Chile and Argentina and several European circuits such as Munich Jewellery Week, Inhorgenta International Fair, Joya Barcelona, Centre de Artesanías de Cataluña, Autor in Budapest, and Legnica Silver Festival in Poland. Currently, she runs her jewelry brand LO joyas and teaches at the School of Jewellery Pamela de la Fuente in Santiago, Chile.