The potential of jewellery and art
Why is jewellery not only there to adorn the body or to be beautiful, what is the impact of an European gaze and taste towards to the understanding of jewellery and what can it mean to articulate a critic of power and an attitude through jewellery? Plus what role plays photography in this approach? About these and more topics we are talking with Luisa Kuschel. Next to this we will hear some insights about Luisa’s current artistic research and time in Amsterdam.
LINKS to this episode
Luisa Kuschel on instgram | @nyeleti.berlin
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!
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Hello back again at GLANZ & KANTE. Here are Cathleen and Ruth and we are glad to have Luisa Kuschel as guest in our episode today. It is the 7th of April and we are sitting next to you in Gallery Intro by Marzee in Amsterdam. With Luisa we talk about her work, the role of photography in it, its reception and the way Luisa looks to the jewellery field as well as she feels in it. Next to this we get some impressions about Luisa’s current time and experiences in Amsterdam.
Luisa is a goldsmith and a jewellery artist. She graduated in 2021 at the HAWK, where we got to know each other, at the metalsmith department. Her graduation work - the beaded confinement - refers to the transatlantic slave trade, the colonial history and the eurocentric perspective on art in Germany. Moreover the material of the chain, glass beads, are also very important because they talk about cultural relations and economic developments. With this work Luisa won three prices in the last year! Since January she lives in Amsterdam in an Artist in Residency Program at Intro by Marzee, an initiative by the contemporary jewellery gallery Marzee.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Luisa, would you like to tell us something about your approach to the beaded confinement and the idea of your work? And what role plays the material in it?
Luisa Kuschel: Well first of all, thank you for having me. It’s an honour and always nice to talk to you guys about jewellery. The beaded confinement is an over dimensional slave chain, covered in various red glass beads. And the idea came that I was actually in the last semester of my bachelors. And I wanted to make a jewellery peace, actually more a collection, which shows my African heritage. I am half Mozambique and half German. And I wanted to show something which is like vibrant and uses glass beads. Because glass beads have always such has been there in my childhood. But then I started to research about glass beads and I founded there was little information about to be found in Germany. And so I travelled to South Africa. There I was very thrilled to find like documents showing people wearing glass beads from like the 1900 or 1800 as well but than also more like drawings. But the further I went back the more I realize that all the sources that I was using right … And you know, if you are in university here in Europe it is like if you are writing a thesis than you need to have, you know, like photographs, you need to have like text, scientific text. And that is how you sort of write a paper at university. (03.52) These are sources which are accepted and which are valid. So then I wanted to work with these sources but the more sources I looked at, the further I went back, the more I realized that it was always a sort of one perspective. That it was always written by white males. First of all I found it very hurtful and also like weird because these were sort of Immigrants coming, talking about culture of a people without being able to speak this language and not being part of this culture. So sort of like looking at it from the outside. And also then I wondered where are the voices of the people who actually work and use these glass beads. And also the way in that people were portrait … it was very disturbing, as if they were the others. But these were human beings and their culture is just as much worth as the European culture. And so I found it very disturbing. This was all in 2020 when we were all at home, scared or unaware of what Corona would be. And then suddenly seeing Geroge Floyd being killed on screen. And everybody watching. And this was for me just a feeling of violation, of fear. Because I identified of course … You know my father is black, he could be that man. It could be my uncle, it could be my brother. So I was just completely overwhelmed, I felt helpless and so I did not want to make a piece which is beautiful. But I thought: No I have to make a political piece! Because it cannot be that one generation after the other, that we’re still struggling for our lives that black people or brown people don’t have the same rights as white people. And so this was sort of the impose for me to make political pieces and to use sort of my medium – jewellery – to talk about these subjects. To be like, well, it is nice if jewellery is beautiful and it is there to adorn the body but jewellery can also be much more than that.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, definitely. How was it to create your work as well as to think about the way to show its content and your message to an audience?
Luisa Kuschel: There again I was lucky that I made my piece doing Covid because it meant that I was not at university. (laughs) So it meant that I wasn’t influenced by the opinions of different professors and peers. And also it gave me the possibility to step out of this university bubble and to realize that actually I experienced racism at university. And when I was there, of course we had some incidences where like posters that put on the wall. But it was always talked about: “Ah, it’s just young people. You know. It is just a joke. You know, don’t take it serious.” And I was had a weird feeling about it because it did make me feel very unconformable. So going to university was always … I would always like take time to prepare mentally to go. And I always count down like one, two, three and action! And then I go there and be like, you know like, be charming and smiling. Because I didn’t want to be the angry black woman. Especially because I was sort of the only black woman in the whole university and I’m, you know, only half black (laughs). So I’m also half white. As everybody was always like looking at me as like the example black person. So I didn’t want to be perceived as angry. And also I just wanted to get good grades and finish. And so it was really good for me to not be at university and to reflect that seeing of images that people I identify with be made fun of. That this is actually a violation of me and people look like me and making racist, sexist, homophobe comments is something to be taken serious! And so my research actually gave me the foundation: this is systemic racism! So it was very good that I was home in Covid and working on this by myself. And then I was really … I found my piece so strong that I was like they can‘t let me fail. Because I really believe in this piece and for me it is more important to make a statement. To show how I feel. Because this is like a slave chain. And a sort of the outside defining is who you are. Because I had no say you know about how I see things. Because in university it was like “No Luisa, you being difficult.” Or people who said something about being difficult. And so it was like … There was no space for me to talk. And so the slave chain was liberating for me because it just showed in one piece how I felt during that time at university. So that was for me a very liberating experience. But then of course, when I had to present it I was so nervous. (laughs) I was literally shaking. But I had the honour and I was very very lucky that I had two supervisors that supported me. And also like my professor Melanie Isverding who gave me the courage to voice my opinion. And so also at the end I said thank you to her and I was so close to tears because it was very emotionally to me. So I am very proud of that. But also like the staging is also a very important part of it, right. I have a series of photographs and there it was also like … I was looking for models. And it was like: “Ehm, excuse me, you are black. Can you please be my model. I need a black person which I can put into a slave chain.” And it was like: “Ehm, why?!” (laughs) And then I was explained my work that I’m actually really criticising this. And that the glass beads were used by slaves and that I want to make aware of this. And so, than, I did get models for my pieces. But it was really such a weird feeling to put slave chains on somebody. That was not a nice feeling at all for them and for me. But it was important in this photographs to show what it feels like. Because I wanted to go away from being an object to a subject. So instead of, you know like, letting white men portrait people the way they wanted to be portrait. I wanted to show what these photos and how this image of black people in the world makes black people feel. So confined, submissive … It is like you are angry but you can’t do anything. Just keeping quite is the only way to survive. Because I mean if you fight then you‘re killed. That is also one option. On other option is maybe not doing anything and just hoping that things change. And both these sides are shown in this series of photographs which we made.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: So that means that you found a voice of yourself with this piece.
Luisa Kuschel: Yeah. Absolutely.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: And I think it is also important to point out that jewellery is not there to be worn or to be wearable. It is also there to formulate a message that is or that lies in it. So jewellery contains a message and there is a huge communication aspect in jewellery and I think you show this communication aspect in your piece very well.
Luisa Kuschel: Yes, thank you. And that is also like the play, right? Between exactly … You know like you are in university and art just in general the world or the things, the pieces that we made have to be wearable but no, they don’t. The can be there for themselves. They have a right to be there. But also like these photos are used to make it alive. And also at the first exhibition I had there was a woman who wanted to wear it. And first I was like: “Yeah, of course.” But then I was “Ehm, NO” (laughs). Then I made some excuses why it can’t be worn. But this was also an interesting process, to then see it being in interaction with other people. And really the piece is not to be worn. Because that would be just disrespectful to the message.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Thanks for all this impressions. And maybe you would like to tell us something about the reception of your work and what experiences did you have?
Luisa Kuschel: Yeah, that is a very interesting question. Because I think the first reaction of people when they see the piece is a bit like be shocked or a bit like agitated. Like: “What are you trying to do?” And here also in Europe or especially in Germany I always found that the first reaction was sort of like being offended. Like: What are you trying to say? Slavery has passed and I also haven’t done anything about it. Something like not relevant, not a relevant subject any more.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: It’s a classical german reaction.
Luisa Kuschel: Yea (laughes). But then on the other side, people also say “yeah, it’s very strong, it’s very emotional”. And I also had some people who actually were touched and really had also like tears in their eyes. And I think the red chain is very in your face. Because it looks as it is covered in blood. And also it is interesting here in Amsterdam because the gallery Intro By Marzee is a neighbourhood where you have a lot of immigrants. And there is also like an slight irritation because they of course … you know like black immigrants recognize the slave chain immediately. And it’s a bit like “What is this?”. And yeah, it is jewellery. So the first reaction is always a bit like being offended or sort of scared to interact which is also what it supposed to do. And then of course when you come closer, you sea the glass beads. And then you are like fascinated: how does it work, why glass beads? And then that whole thing starts a dialogue. But also then I made a second chain which was white. Because I wanted to make a sort of a global chain, which speaks about the emotion and the violence. And then I wanted to see how the chain changes its characteristics if you put sort of like the national flag of people on it. So that you show exactly who was enslaved. Instead of this in generally saying people where enslaved. And there it was really interesting because in Germany then it was perceived a bit like “Oh that’s very cute” “This is like very decorative” and “Ach, I prefer your first chain, you shouldn’t left it at home”. And yeah, that was a bit shocking. But then of course I thought about it and it’s understandable. Because it is not understood. It was a bit like the arrogance of telling me, explaining me my piece without asking me what I wanted to say with it. And that was, yea, a lot of people where “Oh, that’s nice”. But it is not nice! And then I wondered would the same people also say if it’s nice if I had their national flag on it? And it’s a question of maybe Germans not be able to read the symbolism, so not being able to be like “Ah, those symbols mean Zulu.” So there were just like “Oh, looks nice. That’s cute.” But no, it is not cute. It is the symbol for a people. And so I really really think that if I was to make a chain with the German flag on it, the same people wouldn’t be like “Oh, that’s nice”. And also like this whole thing of looking at an object from your own perspective, and being like, you know Germany with the Bauhaus and like less is more. But that is not … That is the German taste, that is maybe the European taste. But it’s not the taste of other cultures. And so it is the thing about degrading something you don’t understand and that shouldn’t be the case. You know there a different cultures, different tastes. And they are different. But that doesn’t mean that the one is better than the other. And that was very surprising and obsetting. But it was good to reflect upon it and to think about it and yeah, I definitely want to make a third chain. (laughes) And then I’m done with this. (laughes) No more slave chains.
Cathleen Kämpfe: So I am super curious, what will the next jewellery pieces be if it is not the slavery chain any more?
Luisa Kuschel: I’m still sort of staying true to this road I have taken. So it’s still about people having different starting points than others. And you that still held back depending on where you come from. And so I will still be working with the chain, the element of the chain. But this time not having it in a form of a slave chain. So more like an over dimensional chain which you can carry. So it’s like a heavy burden. But it is more neutral, you can apply to like different aspects to life. And also I want to make shackles which are more wearable. And many people can wear them and it is sort of like: We broke away from the chain but we still being held back. Because slavery is not legal any more but it has changed its form and so like the Jim Crow area in America. Also just like nowadays like in Europe as well that you have a lot of people with … who have migrated to Europe but they are all in the sectors where they earn less money. So it does matter where you came from still up today. And of course all those people who had plantations, who sort of gained a lot of money during colonialism. They of course have that money, it’s old money. And so we still have to talk about racism if those people still have those profit from it and others don’t. So that is why I’m still gonna focus on slavery and on chains and shackles. Because this is sort of a symbolism which is understood by everyone.
Cathleen Kämpfe: That is really impressive. I am wondering if these chains, the new chains you are making right now, can they connect to each other? So people who have bought chains from you can come together and make with their own chain even one bigger chain?
Luisa Kuschel: Yes, definitely. I want the closer of these new chains, they will be holding two chains together, two parts. But you can also connect them. And also I want to make a photo series and just having more like various people connecting by these chains. Some really looking forward to that. (laughs) Also again using photography to make my message clear. Because I guess if I would just have a chain line somewhere, of course again with this blood colour that is very impressive. And also all the work I put into it. But I think again this work needs photography to make it come alive. So I do want to connect various people nowadays who are still like held back.
Cathleen Kämpfe: Ah, you talked about photography and I am really interested in that. Which role does it play, the photography and the pictures you take in your work? And is it still necessary for you to have the object itself? Or are even the pictures more important to you?
Luisa Kuschel: That is a good question. If the photographs or the objects are more important. I think I really like both of it. Because if I would just put the objects somewhere I display it, everybody can interact the way they sort of want. And they can make their own opinions about it which I also found very interesting. Because it is just, you know: Here it is, do with it what you want. And you can make various interpretations. But in the photographs of course you can also leave this open. You can leave the space for various interpretations. But what I enjoy about the stage photographs of the 19th century, that it looks like a real image, but everything is staged. And so I really want to sort of direct the gaze of the people looking at it. So it is very controlled. And I like that, because it is the message that I want to give. So I’m actually pushing people to a certain direction with the photographs and that is important to me as well.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: So you mean that the photography is also always in a dialogue with your work?
Luisa Kuschel: Yes.
Cathleen Kämpfe: You talked about the reception of your slavery chain in Germany and how it changed when you came to Amsterdam. I was wondering how did the reception changed with the slavery chain by showing it in a gallery where people come inside and looking for nice jewellery and some entertainment. How did that changed? And how changed your life as a jewellery artist with moving to Amsterdam?
Luisa Kuschel: I think the perception of my work changed here in Amsterdam because more people saw it and more people who have nothing to do with the context of sort of jewellery. And so that’s reaching a different audience. So that was very interesting when people who come in and are like: “what is it?”. And not really understanding the context even of like an art gallery. And I really enjoyed that because than I had people coming in because they saw me and like wanted to talk to me. But then ok, but what is this? And you know, all these topics concerning them. But it was, you know, like people who are so caught up in their whole day to day life about making to have a living, then there is no space to think about arts, you know. So that I really enjoyed. Because like the place where the gallery is in Amsterdam is the working class, a lot of immigrants. So I really enjoyed seeing it in that setting. And I think it’s sort of if I tell people about it is empowering for people who have like African roots. That this is something which is talked about. And I am also looking forward to showing it on the African continent. Two years ago I was in the Zeitz Museum in Capetown. And there, also for the first time actually in my life, it was like a whole museum talking about topics I could relate to. I mean I always loved to go to museums ever since I could walk. But for the first time being in a museum what sort of shows my day to day life, shows my thoughts, my struggles. And that was a very strong emotional moment for me. And it was sort of I want to bring art back to the life of Africans. Because I mean also through the colonial history … like the education was to make people work for the colonial powers. So art was never there. Because art can inspire people. Art can bring people together. So art has the potential of maybe like a riot or overthrow any system. And people, governments, don’t want that. And also especially the governments in power in Africa, they don’t want that. Because, you know, they are still taking out of these countries the way Europeans did. But it is now like a few black people doing that. But still the whole world is not distributed equally. And so through art if you say: we say we as a people have a voice, you know art can – yeah – bring up emotions, it can bring people together. And so if you do that you could have a revolution. And of course that is not wanted. So a lot of people from Africa, from colonies, they have no sense for art. And that is deliberately, because the Europeans just cut that off. And so it is a real struggle to say that art is valuable and bring it back to bring it back to Africans.
Cathleen Kämpfe: How do you want to show your work in Africa if you say it is not quite that common? Yea, how do you want to do it?
Luisa Kuschel: Yea, that is always a question of financing right? In which room can you show your art? Then also there, who is founding art? And often it is still like European countries who found these projects that I have cared. Than you have like churches and other NGOs. So I think also there at the beginning it is all about just doing it in whatever space is available. And that is also a gaze like dangerous, right. Because you have to be like: “Ah it is just art, it is nothing serious.” Because of course if you criticize somebody that could be dangerous … And as a child it saw lot of inequality and also Carlos Cardoso was the father of a friend of mine. And he was a journalist and he was researching a story and then he was killed. And that was like for me a very important moment in my life. I was like, if you want to criticise the system of people that power, you have to be very careful. Because I was like: I want to become an activist, I want to change the life of people, but then I was like: oh, but that is dangerous. So if I do that, if I become a laywer or an activist, I’ll be killed. So that I was like: oh maybe just be an artist. So I can criticise but no one will take me serious. (laughs) You know, and then you can laugh about it. So there is a power in art and yeah, it is difficult to find these spaces. Because critic is not wanted.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, it is not wanted but it is necessary and essential I think. And it is completely important that we understand your work and your artistic research also in a way of critic of power. And I am wondering is this critic of power also a critic about field of jewellery in Europe and in Africa?
Luisa Kuschel: Yes, definitely. Because you also ask like what spaces, I mean … Like this Zeitz Museum in South Africa now, there is also a museum in Senegal. So we are starting to have these museums and galleries and spaces. Because we are realising it is important to have, you know, an identity as Africans. But if you talked about the jewellery market everybody automatically thinks about Europe. And sort of Europe dictates the story of the jewellery market. I was part of the jewellery week in Brazil last year. And for me it was such an eye opening moment or such a great feeling. Because I was taking about people who make jewellery but outside of Europe. And they were also like … Because we have different stories or we have a different way of making things. So different senses of aesthetics, that it is not valued or degraded. Or also like me, working with glass beads it is like: Oh, that’s cute. But it is not the same like: hey Luisa, if you like to become a real jewellery maker you are going to work with gold and diamonds. But why is that more valuable than glass beads. You know glass beads was used to trade for gold and ivory. And who said? Who said that? So I am sort of like, no I am working with glass beads, just to make a statement. So it is not really seen as something worthy. And so it is a cri … And also like, I mean just like thinking about like our generation, it is like, if you want to become a goldsmith, in Germany, you earn less than hairdressers. And everybody is always like “Oh my god, hairdressers don’t earn anything.” I mean in my third year I earned 320 Euros per month.
Cathleen Kämpfe: I had it in my fourth year we had 320 Euros.
Luisa Kuschel: Wow. (laughs) So, and I am also studying right. I mean all the material we have to buy … and it is a hustle. So for many migrant families come in here, ok, it is like if you are learning a trade or if you are going to study than it has to be something what you can make a living from, right. And it is like, why would you do that. It is like how you suppose to do that even like you don’t have a financial backing of the families. So you do have very little people who are not white in the jewellery scene here in Europe. Of course I mean you have a whole industry in India or in Latin America. But it’s contemporary jewellery it is still very dictated by the white perspective. So I think it will take a time this to change. But we are … I think there are cool artist on the market right now. And many more will come after us (laughs). But it is a struggle. It is definitely a struggle. Because if you are in the minority, then of course the stories you tell are also not in that art scene. There is also like nobody who can relate to that that much. So it is like, well, that’s nice but I’ll not gonna buy it. So it is also all about networking. So if you are one of few black people is that’s your network, right. And so that’s difficult and it is a struggle.
Cathleen Kämpfe: Did it get easier for you to connect with different people now that you are in Amsterdam?
Luisa Kuschel: Yes definitely it was easier - like Amsterdam is much smaller. And they have a strong jewellery scene. So it was much easier for me to connect here than in Berlin, for example. But something which is always great is like workshops. Or something like the first jewellery biennale in Lisbon – I was there. And there I met people from all over Europe and the world. And that was for me a great moment just to meet all these strong and interesting woman and men. And that was really like a great moment. So I think more like these biennale, these events or a place where people from all over the world come together.
Cathleen Kämpfe: So what I can hear is that you have to team up, right? So maybe you should start a symposium or is there any kind of symposium or jewellery festival in Africa where you can be a part of? Or … sorry, I just don’t know.
Luisa Kuschel: Yeah, ehm. Well jewellery wise definitely not. But I mean also just as like a young jewellery artist or any jewellery artist, I think it is very difficult market. But I think we have to start about thinking about not putting ourselves not only into contemporary jewellery market. But maybe going into fashion, going into product. And so are seeing our objects as pieces of art, sculptures, right. Or also going working with photography. These past months have been for me a change of perspective the way I look at my work. And also a bit like: if it is so difficult to live of my work in the contemporary jewellery market, well maybe than I’ll go to another market. Why not? (laughs) And also I want people to come into contact with it and so I will go to places and I hope my work goes to places where is just a bigger audience. And so why not … I was told that the Fashion Week in Nigeria in Lagos is supposed to be amazing. So I am very much interested or actually more interested a bit to come into contact with young fashion designers. And designers on the continent. And yeah, go to brazil and interact there. You know more than 50 % of Brazilians are of African decent. And if people don’t want my perspective here than I will go somewhere where people do! And then maybe people will come than like: “Ok, maybe I will going to listen to you now!” (laughs). Yeah, so just make my own space and just, yeah, … fuck it all. Make something new. (laughs)
Cathleen Kämpfe: Wow, that sounds really inspiring. Thank you so much!
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes, I only have in my mind that I think we need a much wider social and cultural appreciation for our field and for that what we are doing and for that what we are thinking. Because all the time we are struggling, you are struggling, and yes… I want this to change.
Luisa Kuschel: Yes, because we should all think about that we can succeed together. So I think we should really instead of like working against each other, working more with each other towards a future which is more sustainable and better for all of us.
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Yes.
Luisa Kuschel: Break the chains! (laughs)
A.S. Ruth Schneider: Break the chains! That’s the slogan! (laughs)
Luisa Kuschel: Yeah, absolutely (laughs)
Cathleen Kämpfe: Thank you so much!
Luisa Kuschel: Yeah, thank you!