Jewellery and material
How can Material and its use in jewellery be conceived and why is it important to look, in a sensitive and aware way, under the surface? What role plays our gaze in our individual unterstanding of material? These and more aspects are discussed with Chequita Nahar. She exemplifies the importance of a wider understanding of material, its value, its stories and its use in jewellery. Furthermore we are talking about the part of material in identity, history and cultural relations. Moreover Chequita Nahar illustrates her understanding and use of material in jewellery and the relevance of translating and transforming experiences and remembrances through material and its shapes.
Foto: Michiel Heffels
LINKS to this episode
Chequita Nahar on instagram | @chequita_nahar
Music: Mine Pleasure Bouvar Wenzel | @mine_pleasure_bouvar
This podcast is supported by the HAWK Metal Design Department, the Hildesheim University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Holzminden, Göttingen and the HAWK AStA. Thanks a lot for this!
Cathleen Kämpfe: Hello and welcome to the Glanz & Kante podcast. The podcast that gives insights to the facets of body-related objects. Today we are talking to Chequita Nahar, Head of Fine Art and Design programme at the Maastricht Institute of Arts and winner of the Françoise van den Bosch Award 2022. How nice to talk to you today, Chequita!
Chequita Nahar: Hello! Nice for you to have me.
Cathleen Kämpfe: Thank you so much. First a little introduction of yourself. You were born in Suriname and live and work in Maastricht as a jewelry designer, tutor and curator. Your work is part of museum collections, for example the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the CODA in Apeldoorn and Die Neue Sammlung in Munich. In your work you negotiate Surinamese culture, its rituals, symbolism and visual language and connect it to Dutch culture. You use different materials that point beyond themselves. We are therefore very pleased to welcome you to this episode.
First of all, a question we would like to ask all our guests: What was the last thing you bought from the jewelry sector?
Chequita Nahar: Well, that was a question I had to think a little bit about. Because actually I think, I bought three pieces. The last one I think, the very last last one was a piece. Not really a jewellery piece from a jewellery designer, but from a fashion designer. And it was a brooch from Bas Kosters. And it is a heart which is weeping thread. That was a really nice one, which I really needed to have. Because it was very much how I felt at the moment also about everything that is going on in the world. So this weeping, this wept tears made from thread were really a symbolism for me to everything that is happening right now. But that was the very last one. But before that I bought a very, very beautiful ring from Hartog en Henneman.
Cathleen Kämpfe: That’s great. Especially the heart sounds really interesting.
Chequita Nahar: It is, it is. It was really something that really caught my eye. It was at the fair Kunstrai and I saw it and without any hesitation I knew, I had to have that. Because it was so a paramount. For me it stood for a lot of things.
Cathleen Kämpfe: Yea. It is great that jewellery can make it. That you can see it and fall in love with it immediately.
Chequita Nahar: Exactly, yea.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, thank you very much. First of all, we would like to ask you: What role plays material in jewellery? And how is material used - especially in contemporary jewellery?
Chequita Nahar: Well, I think material sometimes underestimated. Because to me it is a very crucial and relevant part of the narrative of a jewellery piece. Especially when you go back in history and you see that certain materials are used to express - either it is an individual thought or a need or it addresses something. So I think material and especially within contemporary jewellery or altered jewellery or how you want to call it, is something that is very much connected to the piece of jewellery and the narrative. And I think it is a story, it’s part of the story. So I think it’s very relevant and also interesting how a lot of young people nowadays also incorporate different media as the material. That’s also interesting to see how the term “material” is being transformed, translated into different stories as well.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, thank you. You already talked a little bit about the narratives and maybe you can tell us, what can we see or find in material, what can’t be directly seen on its surface?
Chequita Nahar: Yea. Well I think the narrative sometimes within deeper, within the material, it has to do for me … It can be symbolism, it can address certain connections. So for instance if we talk about identities, and also the dialogue about gender for instance now, and material color for instance. That’s a very interesting topic to me. Because when you go deeper into certain material such as fabric and the colors and their expression than you know that it’s about a certain story. And it inhabits something that we cannot see directly on the surface. For me, material is also going deeper and deeper into history or values in order for it to be readable. So I think sometimes it can be something very small, it can be the makers choice, it can be a makers story, it can be identity. It can also be part of a history and I think that is something – not always – but nowadays sometimes I miss seeing that in the work. Because sometimes it can be superficial, so a little bit on the surface. And, as you said, on the surface. But it has no deeper soul or layer. And I think those layers can be addressed with material as well.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: And in which relation stand the immaterial and the material aspects to each other? And what is the role of value in this relation? Or in material in generally?
Chequita Nahar: I think especially in contemporary jewellery it is this, you know, constant balance of immaterial and material. It’s paramount. Because I think sometimes … we always discuss and on literally the value of an immaterial material in the work. And then it is like, ok but why is it that this, it has this kind of value. And then, you know, a value in money. But misreading sometimes the value, the deeper value. And I think this is something that is – especially in contemporary jewellery – is something that we are good in addressing and also expressing. And I think so they are in balance, they need to be in balance. And also it is something … the immaterial value sometimes is related to the narrative. And when you do want to express something it is very important to think about ok,, what is the purpose of this material that I’m going to use? How I’m going to use? How it’s going to be seen? So for me that plays a big role in the connection with each other. And value is a whole different ball game, I think. Because, you have social value, you have a material value, an immaterial value, you have historical value. There are certain and I don’t know if … Well, I think people know, because I think this is also for people who are in the jewellery field. But Marjan Unger and Suzannne van Leeuwen they wrote a book, you all know it, and they talk about all the different aspects of value. And I think with jewellery. I had a conversation last week about ok, but why don’t you use gold or silver or why do you blacken the silver? Because it is not about the physical aspect of the material, and I mean the value of the material. But what it can say. And I think that goes beyond the value sometimes. And therefore I think value is a very personal thing as well. But I think it’s also something that is very important in the field of contemporary jewellery. And sometimes I also think the discussion we have within the jewellery field, about where do we belong, has also to do with value.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, definitely. And I also think that we should have a more open mind for this more value aspects of jewellery, that it’s not only gold and silver and about money or habitus and so on?
Chequita Nahar: Yea, I agree because that’s something that is near to my heart. Because in my work and also thriving from my background it is more about the aspect of how we interact with each other, how we use jewellery in rituals for instance also. But also the value we give to it. When you give something to a child or to a friend it doesn’t always has to be about this gold, or the value of the monetary system. It is also about interconnecting, interculturality, it’s about so much other things. I have a friend of mine and she is the most happiest with something that I made as a fiddle and it is worth nothing, literally nothing. But to her it is the most valuable thing she has. Because it reminds her of a difficult time and also of our friendship. And that is sometimes something we do forget. These values that are also incorporated, imbedded in jewellery. And that goes beyond any price or any value that we know.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, you already talked about the intercultural aspects and maybe you would like to tell us: How can the material of a piece of jewelry built bridges to cultures?
Chequita Nahar: Well that’s a kind of sometimes a little difficult topic. Because also like two days ago I talked to someone and she said like ok, but isn’t this cultural appropriation when we just use material from different cultures and adopting them or using them in our own work and then giving them another value? So that’s a difficult dialogue and conversation I think. But, again, it is a dialogue that we need to address and also talk about because of the fact that the world is so small. I mean we can go everywhere, we can get everything. But I think it is all about addressing. And also recognizing and also giving credits to those who use certain materials. And I think they can enrich your work because we all use materials. I mean silver and gold for instance, if we would say that. Nobody would be able to use it because I would say it’s something that’s from a certain area of our world. But I think it’s what do you do with it and how do you relate to your own background or your own surrounding. And also are you addressing it? Are you respecting? If you’re using certain materials from a certain country or from a certain region just address it. Because I’m a believer of materials traveling and then telling a different story because they gain a different owner. But still it is a difficult dialogue I think. But in itself I think cultures, different cultures and using materials, I think it is always interesting, how everyone interprets something materially in a different way. And also sometimes I see a material and I would never thought to use it like that. And that’s also to do with surrounding, with all kinds of context that are related to the person who is making that piece or is using that material.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes. And I think it’s also important to point out that it is necessary that this dialogue is not easy to handle. Or that it is difficult. Because it’s not an easy subject we are talking about. And so of cause, it is difficult and it must be difficult.
Chequita Nahar: Yea, I agree. People seem sometimes to divert and say like “Oh no, I’m not talking about that” or “Well no, I was inspired” or what the. But I say it’s the same with all the topics that are, well it’s so stupid I think. Because these are topics that are new, there are no new topics. There are topics that have always been there, I mean talking about diversity, equity, inclusion but also the use of materials because of these topics. They are not new. But they’re difficult. And I mean if we can get past that we would have a much richer field. Because then we would appreciate each other much more, respect it but also respect how people use the materials. Because to me this is also a very interesting one I just said like interculturality. It’s also about when you see someone using a kind of material you would say it’s a, I was sometimes called it’s a very tribal way of using it. How is it tribal with me and not tribal with someone else who is using the material? And that’s the same as you would say for gender. I mean how is it that, when I’m a kind of color and material that it’s related to being a female? Or being an man, a non-binary or whatever? I think that is something that we need to be much more aware of. And then the field could be much richer. And we would gain much more makers.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, definitely. Our gaze is always a mirror of society. How can we as viewer find an approach to the huge levels of meanings of material which can be addressed.
Chequita Nahar: Well, I think that’s also a part of us as makers to explain. But also to be aware that the readability of what we use is addressed. It’s also if you use gold or silver. Nowadays people are thinking oh, but is it gold that is not related to any, you know, or diamonds or whatever to any certain blood mines. So I think it’s also our duty as makers to address that and would say a lot people would not saying the same thing or like, no I don’t agree, but I do think it is part of what we do as makers as well. I mean, we are also part of this world and if we don’t address it and we don’t publish it then … How would the viewer know? I mean can they smell it? That’s also part of our work. And that’s why I think also when students research they have to, not really publish, but they do have to be aware of how they use it, why they are using materials and also make it visible for the viewer. And wearer and buyer or possible buyer that this is something that is embedded in the material and how they use it. And perhaps also even through things like this, like the podcast. I mean sharing all the knowledge and sharing different insights, I think that’s important already. So this is also a great media to do it.
Cathleen Kämpfe: Yea, thank you. We also have a few more episodes about decolonization in jewellery and so on. We think it is really, really important to talk about it. Thank you so much for that. We also have some questions about your work especially because you work in many different materials and I was wondering: At what point in your design do you decide which material to use?
Chequita Nahar: I always connect it to the story I want to tell. My work has always shifted or is always about the dialogue between different cultures and how they use certain rituals or symbolisms. And what I do is, I research how these symbolisms or dialogues … For instance I making work around stories and we call it in Surinam tori. So a tori is a story that is been told between even two people who are talking about something but they don’t want to really know what it’s all about. For instance, then I connect it to Instagram, how we talk with each other on Facebook or even through WhatsApp, you know, this communication. And then I look at it, but what material would be the best way to address the background of what I’m trying to say. So for now it would be textiles for instance but also beads. Beads is always something I always incorporate in my work. Because from early on, beads have been a communication tool for a lot of cultures, also in my culture. We have beads that are always addressing the person but also his identity. Are you a young female who has not given birth yet? Or is not a female yet? And then you get a certain color. So for me, choosing materials is always about what I am going to tell or what do I want to tell, which dialogue is it about? And sometimes I make translations, for instance when we, in Surinam we use a white kind of powder to smear on one self when we are gazing away evil spirits. And then I look ok, but what is this, when we are talking about evil spirits and what are evil spirits nowadays. And then I try to translate that also in material but also in shape. So to me it’s always a dialogue between different contexts of what I want to share.
Cathleen Kämpfe: It’s interesting that you really start in the background and going forward with the material. As a fun point, my next question was about beads and the messages you communicate with them. I was wondering how you communicate these messages also to people who otherwise have little contact with contemporary jewellery design? I mean, you can’t stand always besides your jewellery or how do you try to translate it?
Chequita Nahar: That’s a very interesting one. Because the first collection I made or actually it didn’t made the word collection because I was then like: “No, I have to communicate about it. So how are people going to read that it is about this?”. So what I did was go into a dialect that we have in Surinam and made like a transcript of it and then people could buy the pieces where the beads are in but also they would get this transcript. So they would know, what is being said with the beads but any other person wouldn’t know because they are not the wearers. Because this is also something that’s really important to me. A piece of jewellery is for the one who is wearing the piece. This is something that is related to my culture. Therefore when someone would get something and then they would also have this transcript. But it is something that is … sometimes I also don’t want them to know. Because beads are also wearers of the owners identity and also the value. Sometimes what I do is, I have bare beads with no color on it and therefore they can take over whatever the wearer is giving them. And I always give that with the wearer so they would know. And then sent all the oil, the colors of our clothing could be transferred on to these beads because they are pure white and they would gain all the identity but also the soul and spirit of the wearer. And that is something that is very much connected to this narrative that I have as a maker from my cultural background.
Cathleen Kämpfe: You already started to tell us about the colors you put on the beads. I was wondering how you process the materials. So at which point is classic craftmanship important to you an for which statements do you break through it?
Chequita Nahar: That is also something that I ask myself as well. Because I always have this inner discussion with myself as I say ok, because to me this giving this part of my background is important to me. But grandparents for instance they are saying: “Oh, be careful because it’s something that belongs to the…”. So sometimes I have a fight within myself as I say ok, how am I going to do that. But usually what wins is the social part. And then I say like, if I want to tell the story correct, I need to incorporate this craft as well or the way how my ancestors used to do it. For me that is important because otherwise it would be empty. Because otherwise I would be doing something… I can make a translation if I combine my Dutch culture and my Surinam culture. If I combine them it is possible but still I do want to connect them. So for instance when I have this white beads and it is about coloring them it is in a way a connection of the Dutch and the Surinam. Because in Dutch you have the Delfts Blau, you have the way how they make the blue and then in Surinam is the blue of coloring it by washing. And in a way this washing is the same way as how you also use the paint for bluing these tiles. So to me there is this, I try to make it always a good marriage. And if it isn’t I usually go to my cultural craftmanship. It’s embedding so much more power to me.
Cathleen Kämpfe: I have so many more questions in my head but I think I stay with the beads. Some of them are made in porcelain, aren’t they? So since Ruth and I also worked briefly in porcelain we know it’s a really difficult material. We had some fights, some good times, but most of the time it was difficult. So why are you using porcelain?
Chequita Nahar: This is the connection which I meant. Because in Surinam we use glass but we also use a material that is a kind of towards ceramics or porcelain. And porcelain is also used by me because of three things. It is a pure and then Bone China preferably. So when I use Bone China ... it has this surface which is still a little bit not totally on the highest height of the oven. I don’t fire it on a very high end because then it can’t carry all the things that the wearer is, like my oil gets off. But also the sound. When you connect a lot of beads to each other it sounds and sound is also important in my culture to stay away all these evil problems we have in our nowadays life. So that is sound, it is about the color because the white refers to the Pemba to the white powder they use in Surinam and this is pure. And to me porcelain is one of the purest materials when you use it in a very good way. And the of cause also how it can absorb materials, colors but also sense. That’s why I use porcelain.
Cathleen Kämpfe: It’s great to hear that is really a symbol of this marriage of the cultures you try to tell in all your pieces. Thank you so much! It was really so full of information and ideas and really inspiring. Thank you so, so much.
Chequita Nahar: You’re welcome. It was nice to share it because sometimes as I said it is not always that obvious for people what is imbedded in work because they only see, ah, it’s beautiful or I don’t like it. And sometimes the background is also necessary to share.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Thank you very much.
Chequita Nahar: You’re welcome, thank you.