A silver lining: An introduction to The Roots Necklace.

The year 2020 will quite possibly enter the record books as one of the most memorable years in modern history, beginning with the unexpected and tragic death of global icon and basketball great Kobe Bryant. Since his passing it is as if the balance in the world as we know it shifted, and everything changed. We are faced with an American election which sees mankind staring down the barrel of a gun with the possible re-election of Donald Trump for a second term as President, Black Lives Matter (#BLM) asserting itself as a result of racial injustice against black people (and other people of color) by the police to COVID-19 having the entire world at a standstill and in quarantine- killing close to as many as 153,000 in America alone. Amidst all this death, government enforced quarantine and political turmoil art seems to be the brightest silver lining. There has been a surge in creativity as large sections of entire populations globally are stuck at home, where we see the entrepreneurial and creative sprit rise to produce some fresh, new, and innovative art. My creation of the Roots Necklace is one.

Roots Necklace

A fusion of cultures and artistic traditions guided me in creating the Roots Necklace. As a Jamaican artist who is heavily influenced by the consciousness of Rastafarianism, my affinity to share that same connection in spirituality- alongside the need for those of African descent to reconnect with their heritage birthed my idea. In my previous post where I examined African art from the intricate standpoint of form and function, I explored some of the traditions which are symbolical in the creation of each necklace.

From the usage of the wooden outline of Africa, which symbolizes our connection to the earth and the Black continent, to the uniquely customizable inscriptions that can be placed on every piece, these aspects combined serve as a talisman of remembrance, spirituality and physical connectivity. I blended my love for two-dimensional art and appreciation of three-dimensional renderings, offering the world a new look at four-dimensional fine art as each necklace moves through space and time on our person.

Each necklace is carefully strung with the foundations of visual art as a framework of design in order to achieve maximum visual impact. I chose to make each by hand, from the outline to the painted design to pay homage to my African ancestors who were skilled craftsmen and women. The custom option which includes but is not limited to personal flags as seen above is offered, further adding to the personal connection to your necklace. This exploration in art is one that has been in the making for some time, and like many of the happenings thus far in the year 2020, this is my mark, bred from a call to action as black artists, but also as citizens of a richly creative and innovative world. A world that needs a silver lining.

Form and function in African Art, a brief examination.

Most art has both literal and figurative meanings attached to them, and if these meanings are understood, purposefully and skillfully used in the creation of a work of art the combination can convey subtle messages or sometimes bold outlooks on life that can change a nation, and even define a time period. Lately I have been rethinking the application of the literal and figurative in the context of form and function in handmade art (as some would refer to as craft). So, I’ve decided to re-examine my own approach and focus on African Art from a viewpoint of form and function.

firstly, lets us ask ourselves what makes African Art distinctively ”African”? the answers to this question are as vast as the landscape of the continent itself and cannot possibly be defined in a vacuum. However, there is a subtlety in differences with regards to particular regions and periods of their individual history. Form and function play a vital role in African art tradition and transcends the conventional appropriation of Art that is more common to Western culture. With varied modes of expression in sometimes small areas there is evidence of a much larger commitment to artistic innovation in form, expression and ensemble- what is made, how it’s made and how it is used.

Innovation in form is visible in the vast differences between art from early archeological findings prior to the twentieth centry and art being made in those same regions today, regions such as the Yoruba city of Ile-Ife. Culturally, innovation is encouraged in order to individualize differences in expression, however this speaks to a larger preference (of much of Africa) for varied forms of visual abstraction and the significance of naturalistic renderings. These bold interpretations and expressions embodied in sculpture and other forms of African art is what enticed European artists in the beginning of the twentieth century to rethink form in their work.

Artists like Pablo Picasso demonstrated this in many of his paintings in the period of 1907-1909. Other artists would follow suit and explore these modes of abstraction two-dimensionally and three-dimensionally as well in years following Picasso. The sculptural primacy of design in African art stands on its own regarding three-dimensionality, but when combined with two-dimensional art a far greater consciousness in innovation is accomplished. Art created then becomes four-dimensional (spanning time as well as height, breadth and depth) where the human body plays a role in its transcendence. This is more evident in African jewelry, masks and clothing created in a variety of masqueraded performances.

Multiplicity in Function in African art takes numerous forms. Elaborate personal decorations, sculptures, adornment of jewelry, the wearing of visually impactful masks figuratively represents the differences of the individuals. Each aspect is a performance with art, many in their ensemble become art. Great emphasis has been placed on the transformation of the human body in African art, especially regarding adornment. Ancient paintings discovered in the Sahara and other regions illustrate human beings adorned in elaborate markings and beadwork which is conceptually spiritual and the physical correspondent to a mask. Human beings are a primary component in African art, where representations of the spirit, society and traditions coalesce in meaning simultaneously.

African Goli face mask.

In Western art iconography most generally a particular meaning and function is defined. In African art however meanings are more viried, hence art created can be used for a variety of functions by different members of the society. This dynamism in art symbolism adds to the unique nature of African art, especially in the realm of craft and jewelry making or other physical adornments.

African art continues to redefine itself, even in the twenty- first century, even though some critics still question its place as ‘art’. Form and function in African art adds to its intellectual complexity, furthermore adding to its aesthetic value and contribution to the arts globally. This aesthetic African quality and vibrancy has intrigued me to embark on this new journey fusing form and function, all the while challenging the canon of “art for art’s sake” that is typically applied erroneously to African crafts. this is a journey in education about my African heritage, its impact in my work and the direct role I wish for my art to have in society, both literally and figuratively.