From Kongo symbols to Contemporary Jewellery

How I became a jewellery maker - chap. 2


I was born and raised in Congo then in France where I studied literature at Sorbonne university before becoming a French teacher here in London.

I always carried Congo in my heart, my master and research in literature focussed on African writers. But for years I didn’t go back. So, I wanted to reconnect with this part of me. I used writing, I have travelled back and forth visiting my dad helping him with his school project or taking my family around on adventures...


 

When studying, I researched the perception of time in African literature at university. The way it works in loops, in repetition: it isn’t a linear path. I decided to go back to this first interest but looking at symbols and ancient system of belief. I grew up on the bank of the Congo river surrounded by artefacts decorated by repetitive patterns. And I was stunned to be so ignorant on their meanings or their origins. And that set my path.


In a book published recently by a friend – Manitou Nsaka The vanishing Kuba Textile – I read a nice story : how a Kuba King who received a motorcycle as a gift by missionaries was more interested by the patterns the wheels made on the sand than the motorcycle itself. So much that he had the patterns copied, weaved and the new designed named after him. The Kuba love patterns and so it is true in all the Kongo area.

I also stumbled into a fantastic exhibition of the MET museum called “Kongo: Power and Majesty.” This exhibition stressed the importance of the diamond shape, the infinity of the lines, the importance of the repetition in Kongo designs. I needed to know more. I collected few books on the subject of patterns, many focussed on textiles.

Then I discovered the work of John Mbiti on “African religion and Philosophy”. To this day I am still ashamed not to have included him in my academic paper regarding the perception of time and relied more on the work of occidental philosophers such as Bachelard. John Mbiti explains that in ancient belief “The history moves “backward” … to the Zamani period (representing the past or the death)” (p.29 ) "Birth is a slow process which is finalised long after the person has been physically born. After ceremonies, puberty, initiation rites, marriage and sometime even procreation. Then he is fully born, he is a complete person.” (p.31)

More important still was the discovery of dr. Fu-Kiau Bunseki “African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo, principles of Life & living” a paper wrote for a seminar discussion in Yale, 1980. He starts with this forceful statement: “I am because I was and re-was before, and that I will be and re-be again.” He goes on to explain the Kongo cosmogram with diagrams : the diamond again, the cross, the circle and the arrow. Then he explains the Kala concept:


“Man is a second sun rising and setting around the earth. He has to rise as the sun does in order to Kala, to be, to become, to light fire.” p.26


So poetic ! This was for me the beginning of this jewellery set of necklaces and earrings called Kala.



I am very honoured and pleased that the collection was selected by the Goldsmith Centre for Shine 2021. During the special preview - "Meet the Makers", Wed 22 Sep 2021 at 5pm - I will be telling my story and presenting my work alongside 12 other up-and-coming UK designer makers, at this year’s Shine 2021.

Please register now for this free event hosted by the Goldsmiths’ Centre:






Alternatively the 6th of October you can come to the Goldsmiths’ Centre’s Shine 2021 and Goldsmith Fair showcase to see, handle and try on my collection alongside exquisite jewellery and objects in silver by new talent. I will introduce my handcrafted work. Booking is £15.




More on Kuba textiles : https://www.wfdd.org/story/great-african-kingdom-tells-its-history-fabulous-royal-clothes


 


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