Politically Speaking: New American Ideals in Contemporary Jewelry

Politically Speaking: New American Ideals in Contemporary Jewelry

In this landmark election year of unprecedented maneuvers and fundamental ideological polarization, this exhibition confronts the topical issues that Americans are facing. Through the lens of jewelry, artists tackle a myriad of focal socio-political concerns. Their work offers commentary, elicits deeper conversation and sheds light on our aspirations as a society.

The wearable object has been a deeply explored medium of expression for decades. Artists have increasingly imbued their work with communicative power while investigating new materials and processes. Political and personal declarations by both the maker and wearer are often inherent to these small-scale sculptures. In addition, jewelry has the ability to engage with viewers on a level of intimacy. The significant and long-standing history of campaign pins, badges and buttons instills this group of art works with added contextual significance. Jewelry is an ideal artistic realm for political debate.

These fifteen jewelry pioneers and emerging leaders examine our political landscape directly and metaphorically through imagery, representation and concept. Their works synthesize recent American culture, policy and politics.

This exhibition was on display at the Craft in America Center, August 27 – November 5, 2016.


Additional Object Information

Joyce J. Scott, Yazidi Sex Slave– Necklace, 2016
Renowned for her distinct approach to sculptural beadwork as social criticism, Scott created a piece dedicated to the Yazidi women who have been enslaved and raped by ISIS since 2014. A recent UN report estimated that the terrorist group holds about 3,500 slaves. Scott is a true-trailblazer who incorporates figures and text into her meaning-laden jewelry work.

Nancy Worden, Beans in Your Ears, 1996
Worden created a critical piece that speaks to the idea that political figures and leaders are “all talk, while no one listens”. The metaphor extends far and wide, to the important social issues and concerns that are never addressed, to the communities who are never heard, and to the outmoded systems and practices that are insufficient for responding to national needs.

Trudee Hill, 37 Minutes, 2010
This specially commissioned pin was created to memorialize Dr. George R. Tiller, a doctor who was murdered point-blank at church in 2009 because he had provided abortions at a clinic in Wichita, Kansas. It took jurors merely thirty-seven minutes to convict anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder of first-degree murder during the trial. The stark, serene letters are a tribute to Tiller’s life and his honest dedication to providing patients’ safe medical services over the course of his career.

Holly Anne Mitchell, There Are Two Sides to Every Story: Campaign 2004 Bush Versus Kerry Neckpiece, 2004
Mitchell masterfully repurposes discarded newspaper, a material that is rapidly becoming rare, into hand-rolled beads that form spectacular, statement neckpieces. One side of this piece shows headlines pertaining to George Bush while the other side features Kerry-related headlines.

Jana Brevick, Target Practice – Necklace; Moving Target series, 2006
With crisp craftsmanship, Seattle metal artist Jana Brevick uses the technology, designs and forms that surround us in the developed world as imagery for her art. She recreates the objects of modern existence with scaled precision, here focusing on satellite dishes and shooting target vectors. The deep connotations of these pieces in light of intense debate over gun control, governmental and corporate surveillance, global communication, and alternative energy makes them all that much more salient.

Christina Smith, Enfranchisement by Race/Gender/Politic, 2016
Smith’s masterful silver work is synonymous with bold political and personal expression. Each of her pieces encapsulates a sentiment that has been widely expressed across the country, and that characterizes our fragmented society.

Tiff Massey, B(l)ack then they didn’t want me now I’m hot they all on me
Detroit artist Massey is a metalsmith who creates wearable sculptures stemming from conceptual expression. Tiff’s works are an observation of class and race in contemporary culture viewed through the lens of the African diaspora and life in an industrial urban center that is in flux.

Kat Cole, Old Well – Necklace, 2015
Cole has frequently considered the nature of place as a starting point for mapping personal and American identity in her work. Here, she depicts the hazy oil fields of Texas and Southern California’s past. Her pieces echo the qualities of the built landscape with smoke, steel, and fragmented asphalt. Through material choices, segmentation and applied imagery, she captures the character of these settings and their monumental structures on an intimate scale.

Sandra Enterline, Titusville Chandelier, 2011
Enterline initiates a conversation about one of the most powerful forces driving our society today with the utmost delicate treatment of materials and detail. She incorporates hermetically sealed vials of the precious resource into her lyrical necklaces. The liquid filled capsules stand in the place of more traditionally coveted jewelry materials, making a strong statement about value, commodity and wealth.  Like glass beads, they shimmer and tinkle with the movement of the wearer, heightening the irony of their beauty. The contrast between the smooth containers and the porous coral, which is increasingly threatened globally by environmental abuses, adds additional fodder to the discussion she elicits through the pieces.

Taweesak Molsawat, Is that right?– Neckpiece, 2005
“…to make sure you understand the context in which I was making decisions. He had used weapons.  He had manufactured weapons.  He had funded suicide bombers into Israel.  He had terrorist connections.  In other words, all of those ingredients said to me:  Threat.”  – President George Bush, 2004

Taweesak Molsawat, Tank Route, 2005
Thai jewelry artist Molsawat made a series of politically charged brooches while teaching at San Diego State University in 2005. These pieces specifically questioned the premise of the war on Iraq and the foreign policies of the American government.

Deborah Boskin, Politics 101, 2004
A stacked trio of rings by Boskin forms a playful pun about the prevalent mistrust of politicians. The crude and childlike execution of the pieces mirrors the messiness of partisan politics in this day and age.

Laurie J. Hall, Political Theatre, 2004
Exquisitely constructed as a miniature puppet show, Hall builds a piece that charms like a toy with a satirical bite. Each fine detail is executed with perfection and Hall’s message of spectator sports and political performances speaks loud and clear today, although it was created during the John Kerry and George Bush election year.

Roberta and Dave Williamson, Secrets… The First First Lady – Pendant, 2016
Storytelling is a vital component to the work of the Williamsons, who incorporate found objects into all of their pieces. Each pendant reveals hints of America’s past, which has new relevance in light of the upcoming election.

Kathleen Browne, Abandoned – Brooch , 2016
This body of work, titled “Limena”, uses commercially made ceramic decals made from photographs Browne has taken of liminal or deteriorating spaces primarily near the small, Ohio town where she lives. Once beautiful and prosperous, empty storefronts and vacant houses being torn down have been prevalent ever since the Recession. This is a reflection of the changing economics of the industrial Midwest. These threshold spaces serve as metaphors for transformation-a crossing over from one state to the next- as we sit on the brink of a new presidency.

Nancy Worden, Mantle for Textual Assault, 2015
This modern-day protective armor was envisioned as metaphorically empowering women through the cultural wars we face. With additional meaning, social media has created a new forum for personal yet public attacks, and technology has transformed how we communicate, for better or for worse.

Photos by Madison Metro