|Turquoise Mountain Institute, polishing|
Even when the international news about Afghanistan tends to look like this and an ordinary person like me yearns to kiss off the English glass ceiling and join the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan to fight for emancipation, sometimes all it takes is a bit of bling to dazzle me back to centre. No need to fight the Taliban face to face and go into politics or die trying – I can express my solidarity from here and clock some bejangle in the run-up to Christmas.
If you want to feel that even in an uncertain world there’s still craft and joy and beauty, go to The British Council’s Gem: Contemporary Jewellery and Gemstones from Afghanistan, an exhibition of jewellery, gem-cutting and contemporary practices, which will go on show at the British Council’s London headquarters on 8th October.
Curated by Melanie Eddy, the show explores the process and traditions behind gem-cutting in Afghanistan and examines how these techniques are applied to contemporary jewellery. The display is the result of a long collaboration with Turquoise Mountain, an Afghanistan-based organisation which promotes Afghan craft and design worldwide. On display will be specially commissioned jewellery created by Afghan artisans alongside pieces of contemporary jewellery by UK designers including Pippa Small, Hattie Rickards, Vicki Sarge and Melanie Eddy.
|Turquoise Mountain Institute, polishing lapis|
As John Mitchell, Director, British Council Afghanistan, says:
This exhibition shows how through residencies, skills development and the exchange of ideas, Afghan jewellery design and manufacture has been both restored and enriched. This has led sustainable economic development and improved prospects and livelihoods. Gem also illustrates how UK – Afghan collaboration has helped inform UK jewellery design. Internationally renowned British jewellers have been inspired by Afghan design, processes and gemstones to develop new, innovative products which reflect the best of our creative industries.The exhibition brings to life the personal stories of the jewellery makers and gem cutters, exploring, as the organisers say, “how arts and culture can contribute to the rebuilding of a post conflict country.”
Let’s say nothing wincingly over-specific about where that conflict came from and who supported it, because no euphemism could possibly cover it. But who cares about global military alliances, arrogant Western occupation, colonial notions of liberation and conquer, failed and expensive wars and special relationships turned rotten when you can admire the beautiful and exquisitely made things on display?
|Oculus ring by Hattie Richards|
|Silver filigree earrings by Monawer Shah Qodusi|
In the British Council's invite-only events roster there is one gender panel where they stick some women. The session's called 'The changing shape of gender equality in South Asia; shifts, challenges and a new global partnership.' So far, the season organisers have stuck very faithfully to the 'gender shape' that's always been there and have not challenged it or shifted it in any way, but have patriarchally done what has always been done, by massively marginalising women and keeping us at 22% or less.
Anyway, the gem exhibition looks fantastic and the design work has integrity (hipsterspeak for it's not just tat). What an irony - and yet how typical - that the majority of the Afghan makers shown straining their eyes and fingers to create something very beautiful for not that much money are women, yet when it comes to kicking back, being invited onto a lovely discussion panel, being worshipped as an intellectual and talking about broad issues, cultural shifts, global relations and creative challenges women are pushed to the margins and dropped off the edge. But we can wear lovely necklaces as we fall.
|Turquoise Mountain Institute|
Works in progress
- 8th October – 29th November 2013
- 10am – 4pm Monday to Saturday
- British Council, 10 Spring Gardens, London, SW1A 2BN