Silent Protest: An exhibition guest curated by Dr Mahtab Hanna

It is an enormous honour to welcome you to Silent Protest. This exhibition not only showcases a multitude of internationally recognised and renowned, design-led political messaging, it also illustrates how jewellery with meaning is never ‘alternative’.

In the world today we see uncertainty, aggression and war, all with repression at their core. It seems we are having ‘once-in-a-century’ events every couple of years. Silent Protest therefore asks: how do we react? How does jewellery participate in these moments, what part does it play? Do we stand in solidarity or in isolation? My own Middle Eastern background is full of these ‘moments’ and, in turn, full of artists’ actions and reactions, sometimes carried out amid great personal danger. As a result, through my own practice I aim to create jewellery that follows, creates, and predicts history.

Jewellery has moved from era to era, the makers of each era using different techniques, materials and styles to convey their own messages. Today’s jewellery expresses a strong element of personal narrative, reflecting the experiences and views of the designer, views that are then co-opted, expanded upon, or subverted by wearers. Jewellery wearing can be a direct response to the exchange of views on social media, a new level of communication that jewellers now also navigate. The jewellery in Silent Protest is part of the evolution of jewellery’s ‘DNA’ into a different sphere. More is demanded from jewellery and its ability to overtly express the wearer’s viewpoint.

Ai Weiwei, ‘Rebar in Gold’, 24ct gold, 2013. Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery

The politics of jewellery is akin to official, as well as unofficial, politics and representations of power and struggle. Political jewellery distributes ideas and work. Some wearers are engaged directly with our political systems, like Michelle Obama – who wore her By Chari necklace spelling “Vote” during her Democratic national convention speech in 2020 – the late US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and court judges. These women have brought the political arena further into popular awareness through their use of jewellery. They, and countless others, have merged their political views with artistic expression, using their position, fame and authority to engage broader audiences. Other jewellery wearers may not be directly connected to political systems, but nonetheless make overtly political statements through their jewellery selection.

It is important to understand that political jewellery is not a radical cousin of ‘normal’ jewellery. Political jewellery extends, not narrows, the creative space available to jewellers and the environment that it exists in, giving room for ever greater creativity and output. More underground designers and makers are finding jewellery-related channels through which to engage audiences. Artists, whether openly or covertly, want to contribute to, and play with, the idea of truth; this drive for truth is fundamental to jewellery activism. The exhibitors taking part in Silent Protest are exceptionally skilled. I am eternally grateful to them for their contribution, their strength in representing our industry, and in creating wearable art that provides an opportunity to converse between wearer and observer – without a single word!

Mahtab Hanna, ‘Azadi in Cage’, silver, 2021. Photo: Simon B Amritt