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
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.
I received two books recently, both of which I was first acquainted with in Kenya. One is Africa Adorned by Angela Fisher, a collection of magnificent photographs and documentation of tribal adornment from all over Africa. The other is We Are All Weird by Seth Godin, an author to whom I have our own Jared Angaza to thank for introducing me to.
“Human beings prefer to organize in tribes, into groups of people who share a leader or culture or definition of normal“. -Godin
As I was looking through photographs of women with large coins sewn into their braids and men strapped into beaded corsets, I thought immediately of the phrase ‘definition of normal’.
How often do you look at others and feel that they are behaving in a way that you would call ‘weird’ (or something of the sort)? How often do you take a step back from that first instinct and think about how the person you are perceiving to be weird is perhaps just behaving in ways that are fulfilling the same needs in him or her that you have in yourself?
I doubt if any person on this earth isn’t familiar with that feeling. We are all brought up learning ways in which we are supposed to behave and ways in which we are not. We are all brought up with different notions of what is “normal”.
The next time you feel that initial discomfort or sense or superiority at being in the presence of someone behaving in a way that is weird to you, think of the idea that perhaps they merely have a different definition of normal.
And while you’re at it, take a little pride in the diversity of our world, and the willingness of some to break the norms of the masses. Then go break some norms yourself.
How would you behave if you were being completely honest and true to yourself?
by Hannah Woodard
This past weekend, I was in a shop in Burlington, VT when I came across a bracelet exactly like ones a friend of mine in Kenya makes for a living. I smiled.
I turned the label over: ‘MADE IN KENYA’. My smile widened. I might very well have been sitting with this friend the day he made this bracelet, and now here it was thousands of miles away in the place where I grew up.
But I was smiling because I know the story behind it. I know that this man’s wife sells vegetables, and that they are raising three children on the income from that and the man’s jewelry making. Unfortunately, none of that story is captured in a bland ‘MADE IN KENYA’ label with a barcode next to it.
I wanted others that would pick this bracelet up to know its story too. I believe that even just a little bit of that information would spark a feeling of connection for the person who will eventually buy and wear that bracelet.
I believe that most objects carry much of their value in their individual histories. And I believe that knowing the story behind objects in our lives, especially ones we wear, has the ability to contribute to a feeling of fulfillment and connection in every day life.
by Hannah Woodard
I was recently looking through photographs I took in Kenya, and came across one of a child pulling a toy truck fashioned from a plastic water bottle. Sticks were stuck through the sides with bottle caps on each end, such that the wheels actually turned.
For a moment, this brought to mind all of the comparatively ridiculous amounts of toys I had growing up; play mobile, farm sets, soft stuffed animals and dolls whose eyes really opened and shut.
But it also brought to mind the limitations I had as a child, at least compared to many of my friends. Our television received only four working channels, one of which was in French. We didn’t get high-speed Internet until I’d moved out of the house.
These circumstances resulted in me spending much of my childhood either inventing new forms of entertainment with whatever I could find around, or else creating ‘civilizations’ (forts, invented languages, etc.) in the woods in which I lived.
Limitations are an excellent spur for creativity, and I feel privileged to have had some form of limitation in many areas of my life.
I’m not saying that what many Westerners think of as ‘underprivileged’ folks in Africa (and anywhere else in the world, for that matter) wouldn’t benefit from fewer limitations. Only that such limitations have likely taught them things and caused their minds to develop in ways that many Western minds have not. That they have as much to teach and share with us as we do with them.