Spotlight: Private views & hidden beauty in Xuan Ma’s jewellery

Jewellery touches the body in curiously outward facing but intimate encounters. Xuan Ma offers new perspectives on the ways in which the human body interacts with design and craft. By using mirrored metal surfaces and straight lines that run alongside the curves of the body, abstract parts of the human body are reflected and made visible. The inside of elbows, the upside down refracted gum line shown in the inside of the mouth, the underside of the chin – these ‘private views’ all illuminate the ‘hidden beauty of the body’.

“Private View”- Head
“Private View”- Inside the mouth

For me, jewellery is a creative language to communicate my personal understandings and design ideology to others. After numerous trials and failures in the workshop, I was able to transform all the ideas that seem impossible at first into reality. Thus, I was fascinated by the incredibly enjoyable working process. Another motivation for me is to explore more possibilities in jewellery by applying the newly discovered materials or new effects to my work.

Xuan Ma
“Private View”-Elbow
“Private View” – Armpit

My collection of jewellery uses reflective surfaces to see and rediscover our bodies emphasising a new, meaningful way to appreciate and understand ourselves. I realise in our everyday life, reflective, shiny surfaces are everywhere and the notion of reflection and positive self-reflection is complex and is too often experienced in a comparative, judgemental way – a selfie is not in fact for oneself even if taking one is a private act. Our obsession with self-image and comparisons with others is everywhere. I realised the strongest reason why we take photos is not just about memories, it is about getting familiar to ourselves—to record and see different views of ourselves.

Xuan Ma
“Private View”-Teeth

To create a more meaningful way of looking, I started to develop serendipitous ways to appreciate the uniqueness of our bodies, especially by highlighting the parts that we can’t directly observe ourselves which in my opinion can be found a true sense of self-beauty. Using my metalwork skills, I have made wearable personal mirrors, which help capture these hidden beauty spots, momentarily or just long enough to instil in us a positive act of self-appreciation rather than of judging oneself.

Xuan Ma

“Private View”-Private View

Each piece of my collection reveals a part of the body you can’t see yourself such as the inside of the mouth, the teeth, the armpit, bottom, top of the head, elbow, chin and the private parts. I have designed the pieces so that when they are not being worn or used, they can be placed on a table or hung on a wall, as you would with an ordinary mirror. This collection allowed me to rediscover how beautiful the unseen body can be and how a mirrored jewellery object can be empowering. 

Xuan Ma
“Private View” -Chin

All images by Xuan Ma.

‘Private View’ was nominated for The MullenLowe NOVA Awards and has won the prize of Autor Magazine 2019.

Follow: @x.mahin_jewellery

Nude Me: Enam Gbewonyo

Enam Gbewonyo, Christies Lates Nude Me Part II performance 1, © SMD Photography.jpg

Artist, curator and founder of the Black British Female Artist Collective, Enam Gbewonyo is an exciting talent in fibre art; working at the boundaries between craft and fine art, her multimedia practice weaves new narratives of identity and belonging that counter stereotypes of race and gender. Having previously worked as a knitwear designer in New York, Enam has a clear understanding of how closely textiles are entwined with our daily lives and the power they exert over our sense of self. We first met Enam when she delivered a paper on ‘Yarn, Power and Patriarchy: An Exercise in Unravelling the Seams of Oppression’ at our November 2018 symposium Modernism: Making, Place, and Protest. Enam’s panel, which also included ICON editor Priya Khanchandani and curator Claire Mead, was a highlight of the day, but her talk particularly stood out: not only for the fascinating ways in which she connected traditional Ghanaian weaving practices with her own process of making, but also for how she passionately and persuasively articulated her belief in craft’s power to undo systems of patriarchy. It is no surprise that, since then, Enam’s work has begun to attract serious attention: in 2019, she has performed at the Henry Moore Institute, the Venice Biennale, and at Christie’s, London, joined MTArt Agency, and exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum and New Ashgate Gallery (amongst others).

Enam Gbewonyo, Venice Nude Me Performance 11 © Michal Murawski

Nude Me/Under the Skin: the Awakening of Black Women’s Visibility One Pantyhose at a Time, performed at the Venice Biennial and Christie’s in 2019, is a powerful piece of performance art that mixes ballet and textiles to uncover and unravel the binds that have constricted black female subjectivity. Gbewonyo uses tights to tell stories of identity, alienation, and becoming, connecting with the experiences of her mother, an NHS nurse forced to wear thick tights that clashed with her natural skin tone. Her art highlights the way that tights have functioned as a protective material for white Western women, whilst reinforcing a sense of marginalisation for women of colour; incorporating seedy advertising images, she also shows how they have been used to objectify the female body. Nude Me/Under the Skin enacts a rejection of hosiery’s suffocating hold, as Gbewonyo unbinds the tights that tie her body and transfers them to a mirror frame: the artist emerges through the mirror, uncompromising and emboldened.

Last Autumn, Gbewonyo’s work was on show as part of Gossamer, an exhibition at Margate’s Carl Freedman gallery that brought together 22 artists working with the medium of tights and stockings. Sitting alongside some of 20th century art’s biggest names, including Man Ray, Louise Bourgeois, and Sarah Lucas, Gbewonyo’s work stood out as a strikingly fresh use of nylons as an artistic medium. The tangled tights stretched out across gilt frames raise questions about the intersection of fine art and craft, as well as the politics of display, objectification, and subjugation of bodies in racist and sexist modern cultural narratives.

Enam Gbewonyo, Christies Lates Nude Me Part II performance 4, © SMD Photography lowres.jpeg

On 15th April 2020, Gbewonyo will perform a new work –  ‘The Unbinding: A Restorative Act in Two Halves’ – as part of Two Temple Place’s current exhibition Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles. Created in response to Alice Kettle’s ‘Three Caryatids’, Gbewonyo’s performance promises to be ‘both an ode to and healing restoration of the female form’s fluidity, power and softness’. We guarantee you won’t want to miss it – register for a free ticket here!

Find out more about Enam Gbewonyo over on her website

Spotlight: Blandine Martin, ‘Objets sans importance’

Our spotlight this month is the mixed-media artist Blandine Martin. Martin works with materials including sand, recycled paper and timber to combine the organic with the abstract. Looking at objects and their place within the domestic sphere, Martin questions and transforms everyday objects, their assumed function and associated rituals, particularly rituals involving women. Objets sans importance explores the weight and lasting legacy of female history, and how society has objectified women.

Passengers Installation at the ugly duck gallery, 2019. Textiles and suitcase.
Bud, 2019. Metal fork with orange felt.

“Blandine plays with conceptual ideas and the art of dismantling objects and their purpose along with their narrative”

Artist’s Statement
Spilled dreams, 2018. Metal bowl with plastic.
Reserved, 2019. Cut up chair and textiles.

See more of Martin's work over on her website. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Spotlight: Designer Hala Kaiksow

Hala Kaiksow is a designer, an artist and a sculptor. Her intricate craft, design and construction of garments and pieces allows for profound and striking engagements between the natural world and human labour (hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics, woven raw linen, silk and hemp are often embellished with fragments of latex and metal, as well as natural wood and mother of pearl). Her contemporary practice is infused with a sense of rich Islamic tradition and the past; Kaiksow’s inspiration draws from nomadic antique Bergers clothing to traditional Barhani uniforms. Last year, she was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 5, an international prize for contemporary artists and designers inspired by Islamic tradition held by the Jameel Art Foundation.

Wandress Collection

“Hala Kaiksow’s journey as a designer begins with the human hand and its ability to imbue garments with a sense of soul.”

Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
Kaiksow’s practice, weaving on her loom
Nomas Collection
Turba Collection
Al-Qursan Collection

“It is a reflection of Hala’s artisanal approach to thoughtful luxury, one informed by her passion for transforming unexpected materials through age-old craft traditions.”

Hala Kaiksow, Artist’s Statement
Al-Kīmīya Collection
Al-Qursan Collection