Weather we are man or woman, artist or thinker, there is always that innate struggle between the safety of conforming to the social norms or our community and the pull to freely express our individuality and uniqueness without restraint. We have all experienced this to varying degrees in our own lives and can probably think of various, so-called celebrities that take their ‘individuality’ to perhaps distasteful extremes. However throughout the centuries wearable art has been used to express certain individual characteristics, and convey important information such as a proclamation of status, wealth and even deification.
Across many cultures and civilizations wearable art was used to signify wealth, prosperity nobility and royalty, as well as religious protection. Such examples can be commonly found in Ancient Egyptian pieces such as the Eye of Horus worn by a Pharaoh and the Ankh, both acting as symbols for certain spiritual beliefs and providing the wearer with protection and/or a connection with the gods. Using wearable art as a symbol of wealth or status is still common in many cultures, a young Indian girl will wear a nose ring (mangalsutra, or nath) once she is married. A young Zulu girl will wear beads to convey a message to Zulu men as to weather she is married, single, available etc. Other tribes in the Philippines and Africa wear neck rings and lip stretchers to show wealth and beauty. Needles to mention all the wearable art worn by a king, queen, tribal leader, pharaoh from all cultures throughout the world.
In western society we have encouraged and developed the importance of the individual over the society or community resulting in an unusual situation where people are free to express themselves through wearable art in an indulgent rather than a socially functional way. The use of wearable art seems to have changed through the ages from being a non verbal means of communicating by an individual to their community, to being simply a way to express one’s uniqueness and individuality. In fact, in less western civilizations and cultures the wearing of jewellery was not a choice that an individual could take but was a compulsory part of day to day functioning within that culture. Today we can choose to adorn ourselves with wearable art or not and that choice in itself is a further expression of our individuality.
Wearable art comes today in a multitude of forms, mediums and expressions and these are so varying in their concept and style that it would be difficult to categorize them all. However it would be easier to firstly describe wearable art as any item of jewellery that is not mass produced, that is hand crafted to a high degree of finish and excellence and that is unique. Whether the wearable art is made from precious materials or from a bicycle tyre is not important, what is key is weather the art work is well made, is of lasting quality and is exclusive. There are a multitude of talented artisans creating amazing pieces of wearable art in many different mediums some of which are bead-weaving, metal work, wire work, up-cycled materials, gem stones, paper to name just a few.
People adorn themselves with wearable art for differing reasons nowadays and although the social reasons for wearing it have changed, perhaps there is still the sense that art jewellery can convey one’s personality and flair to others. Where previously the artist was of no importance and the creative process immaterial, we now have a culture where the creative process intrigues us, and a particular artists’ work can be collected and treasured because of his/her reputation or label.
In conclusion wearable art is a unique piece of jewellery which is one of a kind, created by an artist’s hand from any material. The art may or may not be functional and may be displayed in a museum or be worn as jewellery; but however it is displayed it must be of excellent quality and execution and have the potential to make the wearer feel unique, different and ultimately exciting.