The September 2021 edition of Southern/Mid-America Jewelry News featured an unusual story “Finding Hope After Brokenness.” We turned the spotlight on two Middle Eastern female artists who fled their homeland searching for a new setting where their evocative work could find its full expression more freely.
Jewelry artists Nafiseh Khoshandam & Bahareh Ghaderi had already been collaborating for a decade when they made the big leap to another country where they could let their jewelry communicate deep truths. While the messages expressed through their medium are personal for these artists, they also convey a universal theme that’s relatable to people everywhere.
Nafiseh & Bahareh’s jewelry collections are intricately beautiful, employing traditional Middle Eastern forms. While enjoying these complex and elegant pieces, we’re jolted by the realization that each item was purposely damaged in some part, suggesting that beauty triumphs through life’s brokenness and rises to give hope.
These days, they call Istanbul, Turkey home – not too far from the devastation raging throughout Ukraine. Yet in that chaos too, we see hope persisting and persevering.
With no connections, no roots, not knowing the language, nor a source of income in their adopted country, they set about doing what artists everywhere do – finding somewhere to exhibit their work with the same determination they’ve exercised throughout their career. We caught up with them again as their inaugural show was being mounted in Istanbul’s Ayse Taki Galerisi.
SJN: How did you locate a gallery in Istanbul to exhibit your work?
Bahareh: For us, getting into a gallery was quite difficult to navigate without any proper guide. Before starting our journey and moving to Istanbul, we emailed many galleries around the world and received no response.
Living in a hotel for a month while scouting out more permanent housing, they did what we all do when we need to know something, they hit up Google.
Bahareh: We did a lot of Google searches for Istanbul jewelry designers to examine their resumes in detail, and to discover something about them. Sometimes going alley to alley, from street to street we searched for a gallery suitable for our artwork. Most of them were closed because of the pandemic. And we lost some of them because of the language barrier.
SJN: So, how’d that work out for you?
Bahareh: We learned important points this way. I think the very first thing that a designer should do is research via the internet, finding out which galleries make the most sense for your artwork and career goals. Some galleries have a specific date for portfolio submission. Some artists have managed to get into galleries with a cold call. The “walk in” worked for us. In our first meeting with the gallery owner, we received a positive answer.
SJN: What was their response to your jewelry’s message?
Nafiseh: Fortunately, our collection caught their eye. Many, despite the fact that the conditions and theme of their gallery were not in line with our collection as they specialized in other fields of art, gave positive feedback, and encouraged us to continue. A well-known contemporary art gallery director gave us her personal email address with encouraging advice. Once, a gallery owner even sketched the address of another gallery on paper. They all helped us to find a specialized jewelry gallery in Istanbul.
Mounting a show in a foreign country without knowing the language or the region presented challenges. Adding a global pandemic to the mix proved an uphill climb. But they got one “yes” from a gallery that was a perfect fit. That’s all they needed. Sometimes all any of us need is a perfectly timed “yes!”
Nafiseh: The exhibition’s audience made a strong connection with the concept of our collection. It was very well received. They appreciate the gravitas of the issues, and the intertwined fates of humanity across this world. Some of them started a conversation with us about the story and the collection’s message. After our explanation, they expressed their sympathy.
When others met us, they congratulated us on the result, affirming that the message is very clear, and they found deep commonality with these jewels. Art is an international language and a bridge between all cultures.
Jewelry designers who attended the exhibit were surprised by the result of the bronze casting of these pieces. They asked about the technique and the process used. Some attendees were attracted by the unique, elegant design of this collection, and they found the result is still beautiful despite the destruction.
SJN: Now that you’ve held your first exhibit, do you have ideas for another collection – maybe with a different or new message?
Bahareh: Throughout this event we were constantly talking to people about common human concepts. Just when we were looking for a gallery in Istanbul for the Hoping Against Hope Collection, the war in Afghanistan started again. It is very sad indeed that our world is the way it is.
SJN: Can you envision your work evolving as ‘message jewelry’ that keeps reaching the hearts of collectors?
Nafiseh: We believe that everyone has a story to tell. The more we pay attention to the stories of people around this planet, the more successful we can be in evolving our goals of absorbing the deep human emotions for future collectors. At the beginning of the project, we only paid attention to the conditions around us, where we were. But at this exhibit, we had visitors from different countries. All of them, without exception, felt close to the concept of Hoping Against Hope Collection. These connections expanded our vision now.
We can certainly envision establishing a deeper connection with our audience in the continuation of our ‘message jewelry’. We would like to imagine that our jewelry pieces improve human connection and kindness between people – the reason for opening a meaningful dialogue. We hope these fragments of beauty increase life expectancy and become the reason to think again of a brighter future despite all our shortcomings and the erosion of this human life.
Bahareh: Even now, the whole world is watching the war in Ukraine. How can we not think of all these events when we have chosen the concept of culture? Social and cultural themes are always influential in our art projects and will definitely impact our next collection of jewelry. If the current conditions of the world and life become even more difficult, we will make a different collection, but we always hope for a brighter future. We all know life goes on and is still beautiful, despite all.