By Hannah Woodard
A few evenings ago, I was having dinner with one of my closest friend’s parents, and we got to talking about inspiration- a topic of frequent occurrence in conversation among this particular family.
I commented on an experience I’ve been lucky enough to have many times in the past. It is the experience of feeling joy when in the presence of someone else who is inspired. Of being inspired by another person for the sole reason that they are inspired, and that they are expressing it.
In this conversation, I used the following example: I am not someone who is often interested in chemistry. I mean the kind of chemistry we had to learn in high school- bond configurations, chemical reactions, equations. I never understood it in a way that resonated with me. But if someone for whom these things evokes a feeling of joy and fascination spoke to me about those emotions with genuine excitement and vigor, that energy has the power to make me want to design, to create.
I could have nothing in common with this person. I could have never even met this person before. But by genuinely expressing this part of his soul, he has then inspired me to engage in what makes me feel that in my soul.
Go forth and express.
By Hannah Woodard
“Jewelry has its archetype in the amulet – an object of magical significance. It served as protection against misfortune, gave strength to its wearer, enhanced the feeling of security and showed that its wearers were aware of their identity and of being part of a community.” ~ From the introduction to this year’s Legnica International Jewelry Competition application.
What we wear is often an expression of our individual lifestyles and beliefs, no surprise there. What’s different about today as opposed to a century or millennia ago is the vast variety of visual forms we are able to choose from and be inspired by.
With the world having become so much smaller (through photographs, films, the internet, ease of travel) and with cultures permeating one another so frequently, we today (and here I generalize, as that area is another discussion entirely) have the means to cater to our own individual tastes unlike ever before.
This creates the ability for us to choose and express our identities in a way that is unique to our time. Through what we wear we are able to create an essence that we each individually feel is a reflection of our values, whether they be purely aesthetic or moral or spiritual or a combination of all three.
I don’t mean that the people of other eras couldn’t express their individuality through their attire and adornment. Only that I think that the capacity to which we are able to do so today must be far greater.
This exponential expansion of what I think of as a collective dictionary of visual vocabulary is, for me, a blessing. I feel truly honored to live in a time that affords such bountiful opportunities for expression and for inspiration.
If I were a superhero, I would choose jewelry as my superpower.
I just returned from an Invisible Children awareness meeting in Manhattan Beach, CA. In addition to being incredibly inspiring, it was a great reminder of the power of unity, and the important role jewelry can and (more often than not) does play in the achievement of a sense of unity among human beings.
For those of you who are not already familiar with the organization: Invisible Children is a non-profit organization that raises awareness regarding children in Uganda and the DRC being abducted by the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) for use as soldiers and sex slaves.
In addition to making documentaries and running programs on the ground in the LRA-affected communities of Central Africa, Invisible Children sells wearable items as a way to raise money and further awareness. Some of these items are made in Africa, thus creating jobs in places where they are much needed.
One of their most notable products is the Invisible Children bracelet. It is modeled after a particular design found throughout Central Africa, made originally from elephant grass. Each bracelet has a color accent on it. Each color is associated with a particular child affected by the presence of the LRA.
When a person here in the States wears this bracelet, a connection is created between that person and a child half way around the world. The wearer will think of that child’s story, and pass it on to those who comment on or inquire about the bracelet. A connection is also created between that person and other people who wear Invisible Children bracelets. It’s a unifying feeling; a good feeling.
Jewelry and other forms of body adornment have played this role throughout history. From family crests to coming-of-age tattooing to religiously affiliated jewelry, all of it has the ability to unify. All of it has the ability to change our daily experiences.
It also has the ability to separate people in a negative light (as in the case of slave branding). I don’t deny this.
But I do think that the power of jewelry to unify people whether in small communities or across nations for a common cause is great and important. Invisible Children is an excellent example of such power.
We at KEZA are looking forward to introducing our own version of such unifying jewelry. We’ll keep you posted on the launch of our UBUNTU coin in the coming months!
by Hannah Woodard
I often experience conflicting feelings when it comes to the objects I surround myself with, and the fact that I am willing to pay more for them when they are well-designed even though there are people starving all over the world. Surely my money could be put to better use.
A child somewhere could go to sleep with a full stomach. Or, for my own pleasure, I could have a well thought out bag, or watch, or Italian leather-bound journal. When I think about it like that, it seems positively outrageous that I don’t live off the minimum and devote more of my earnings to assisting people in need.
And yet still I’m prepared to purchase the perfect coffee cup, the one that embodies how I want to feel in the morning when I’m drinking from it. It’s $20 more than the one next to it, which might as well be the same cup except that the one that I want, no need, has a slightly steeper degree of tilt to the taper at the bottom. It changes the whole feel of the piece.
The plain truth is, I’m happier when I’m surrounded by design that inspires me, challenges me, satisfies something in me. I don’t believe that such an experience should be lost.
I do believe that the answer to such conflicts of interest lies in projects like KEZA, EDUN and SOKO. If we can fuse design, creating jobs, teaching and learning, then everybody gets the best of both worlds. And everybody gets an opportunity to lead a happier and more sustainable lifestyle.
by Hannah Woodard
Type ‘jewelry’ into Google image search. Or don’t, because you can probably guess what will come up and it’s not worth the time. Rings, necklaces, earrings, the majority of which involve flashy stones and lots of sparkle. In short, bling.
In psychology, this might be referred to as a ‘perceptual set’- the expectation of a person to see or perceive something based on prior experience. For many westerners, the term ‘jewelry’ likely brings to mind most immediately an image of rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. The particular style of those jewelry items is probably relevant to the individual’s particular taste.
But what about jewelry beyond that? What I love and what gets me excited about jewelry of Africa (among many other places) is that it involves what to me is wonderfully innovative adornment.
There is so much more than the usual suspects. There is jewelry that hangs from ear to ear across the face. Jewelry for hair, jewelry that hangs sideways over the chest like a sash. Jewelry that starts below the knee and extends all the way to the ankle.
After much time spent studying such forms of adornment, I no longer see the body in its separate parts (ears, neck, wrist, finger). I now see it as a landscape abundant with planes, sloping valleys, tiny canyons and rolling hills. Forms whose beauty can be amplified by adornment designed for that very purpose.
by Hannah Woodard
I was in a grocery store in Torrance, CA last week, hunting for a specific brand of bread. I was on what to me at that moment was an important mission, and was thus walking quickly, quite oblivious to my surroundings.
A man (one of the grocers working in produce) reached out his arm to get my attention. “What is that you are wearing?” he asked. He had a hint of an accent, looked as though he might be in his forties. A round face, friendly eyes. Though at the moment they were squinting at my necklaces, causing the man to appear quite serious.
The necklaces are ones that I wear every day. One has a silver-cast bone, a crocodile tooth from Kenya, and a tiny lion carved from bone hanging together from a silver chain. The other is a small piece of bone in the shape of an elephant’s tusk and a coin from India on a length of dark cord.
The man repeated himself. “What are these? They mean something to you.”
He had my full attention now. I told him that yes, they did, and shared with him the story of each tiny object.
We ended up talking for quite some time. He had a strong personal interest in jewelry. I learned that he used to value gold, precious stones. Material value.
But then, he told me, he came to understand the importance of the meaning a piece holds; its history and value to the wearer, regardless of its mere material. The connection one feels to an object based on its design, its story, its essence.
Now he makes trips to Indonesia to collect jewelry that brings that feeling of fulfillment to him.
Besides having a great conversation with this complete stranger about our philosophies on jewelry, I was most pleased by the fact that he seemed such an unlikely character for such an interaction. Not to mention the conversation blossomed amidst baskets of fruit in a supermarket.
Unexpected interactions in unexpected locations are, I think, amongst the stronger of exchanges between human beings. He made a conscious choice to reach out to someone rushing by because he saw the opportunity for connection, for something positive to happen between two previously unacquainted people.
He stepped out of his role as a grocer to invite me out of my role as a customer onto a plane of existence in which we could each be a more honest version of ourselves.
It was worth it.
by Hannah Woodard
I have recently had the fortunate and rare experience of having a collection of excellent opportunities present themselves to me almost out of the blue. One week ago I didn’t know what was to become of the next few months of my life, and then I found myself moving across the country, to where an apartment, car and some of my closest friends in the world awaited.
Ragardless of how this all came about, there was just no reason not to hop on the next flight out of town. And yet somehow I still felt a bit irresponsible, because one last element of this master plan was not in place. I didn’t have a solid job lined up.
Then my mother told me about her decision to move out west when she was my age. Not only did she not have any provisions lined up, but she gave up a good job, car and apartment in favor of trying something new and adventurous.
Which brought me to wonder: Have there been other opportunities that I haven’t taken advantage of simply because there were not enough elements to create The Perfect Opportunity?
Likely. But perhaps I could have located those other elements if only I’d looked a little.
Imperfect opportunities aren’t ones that aren’t worth taking. They require some extra research. Extra research is often dismissed along with the opportunity, because it feels like too much energy and time to figure out whatever is left to be figured out in order to make the opportunity reality.
I’ve found that’s not a good enough reason not to make things happen. Perfect opportunities are rare, and honestly it’s likely you’ll learn more by turning an imperfect opportunity into something doable.
Make it happen. Chances are, it’ll be worth it.
by Hannah Woodard
In reflection of the past year and in anticipation of the coming one, a Kenyan friend of mine recently wrote to me that we are all human regardless of different races, cultures, religion, beliefs and taboos. That although we are from different worlds, in a way we are one and the same people.
Besides whole-heartedly agreeing with this, this brought to my mind something a professor of mine at RISD once said: ‘I believe that art is a cultural necessity.’
Culture depends on art because art and design are in every single aspect of life, from religious objects to the architecture of one’s home to the flip-flops or fur boots on our feet. And then of course there is the more metaphorical art and design of social structures and governments.
Our differences are necessary. They make us appreciate the exoticness of people and practices foreign to us. They make us question humanity.
Where would we be without appreciation and questioning? We wouldn’t be making any sort of advancements.
Why do we need advancements? Because the world, though surely bountiful in meaningful relationships, has a lot to work on. Every culture has something to learn about the way it receives, addresses and respects other cultures
Art reflects our cultural and individual thoughts and beliefs, and allows us to recognize and question our similarities, our differences and our very being. Without it, we’d be a lost and dull species, and it is in this that I find my passion for design.
by Vijeta Rathor, KEZA Design Intern
This has been another interesting week here at KEZA. Each day unfolds a new series of experiences, which cannot be attained at any high status schools or universities. I have learned about new and innovative ways to use a variety of materials available to us in order to come up with jewelry creations. At the end of each day this gives me a sense of satisfaction.
Tackling tricky yet beautiful designs sends an adrenaline rush through me and makes me want to come up with my best solutions for design challenges. The more you get involved in problem solving the more you realize there was no exact problem to begin with, but rather you were not ready look deeper into the solution that was right in front of you from the very beginning.
The process of naming the unique jewelry pieces has been another exciting experience as you have to be creative as well as meaningful with your words. I usually thought naming products was quiet easy but after passing through this stage, I have realized that there is a lot more that goes into it even if it seems as simple a name. The character, personality and materials of each piece have to harmonize with the name. It makes you realize how even a tiny detail on a piece can determine the perfect name for it. That way the piece speaks for itself and does not really need a long detailed story to convince people about its individuality.
I am glad to be part of such an experience as very few people get the opportunity to do what I am doing.
by Vijeta Rathor, KEZA Design Intern
Learning is a never-ending journey no matter how trivial our experiences in life; something we should never take for granted. I have learnt so much from the KEZA team as each of them teach me something new. It is an endless journey of grasping knowledge.
As we harmonize our different lifestyles and backgrounds it still reminds us that no matter what our cultural or religious beliefs are, at the end of the day we are all human and we respect and appreciate each other.
I feel so honored to be given the opportunity to work at KEZA. We not only strive to come up with exquisite designs and products but rather it goes deeper than that. It is our passion to fuse the appreciation of culture, love and unity. We want to share our life stories and experiences and the cultural explosion of beauty and diversity in Africa which goes beyond droughts, famines or wars so commonly used to portray a negative picture of Africa.
Through KEZA, Africa has been given a new platform to show the world a true African fighter spirit. Even amidst difficulties we still stand tall and smile with a hope in our eyes by looking forward for a brighter future for this beautiful continent.
Humanity is a race that God created for us all and here at KEZA we live by it.