As of 2017, around 258 million people - that’s one in every 30 - were living outside their country of birth. It’s difficult to even conceptualise how this number may have risen in the past two years. The mass-movement of people around the world has been the topic of our time. It’s been talked about on the news, in our universities, in our societies and in our homes. But how do immigrants who have assimilated into a new culture preserve the memories of their homeland? And what role does jewellery play in solidifying this cultural link?
Today, the effects of colonisation, globalisation, and transculturation have destablised the notion of a monocultural jewellery industry. Jewellery is no longer a symbol of status and monetary wealth. Instead, it is a signifier of the wealth of a person’s identity, their depth of emotion, and their unavoidable biculturalism.
The inextricable link between identity and homeland.
Being able to connect with two different places allows people to cultivate two ways of thinking. The rise of bicultural designers entering the jewellery industry has given unique results. If a jewellery designer can tap into two (or more) different cultural schemas when designing, then the pieces that they produce are more likely to appeal to the mass market. And, if there are over 258 million people that connect with this duality, then the designs are likely to become popular because they capture its essence. Arguably, biculturalism provides a new way of seeing and perceiving things.
To me, biculturalism is like paint-by-numbers. Your identity can be formed by a variety of different colour combinations that complement each other and share the same tonality. However, there is always a segment of the painting where the lines are blurred, and your identity becomes an indistinguishable whole. Some aspects are clear, but some will always remain hazy.
Jewellery acts as a connective thread to bridge the geographical and emotional gap between home and homeland. People often hold onto jewellery pieces from their past, and use them as positive talismans for the future. Even though our identity may be in a constant state of flux, our jewellery has a solidifying continuous presence.
The value of jewellery lies in its sentimental worth.
A lot of immigrants maintain a longing for their homeland that is unwavering and present in their everyday lives. The desire to return to their birthplace is strong, and so their nostalgia is transformed into an aspect of their identity. Jewellery has become an expression of this nostalgia, and it channels an individual’s authentic sense of self.
Culture is multi-sensory; it gives your life meaning and warmth. Without it, what would our existence be? Sometimes, something as simple as the smell of bread will transport me back to my homeland. When I open my jewellery box and see the gold baby bangle gifted to me at birth, the necklace from the Bazaar in Tehran that I received for my 18th birthday, the coin jewellery from my grandparents… I am overcome with memories. They are all tied to my culture. They are tied to me.
Christian Jarrett wrote about our lifelong relationship with objects. He stated that “the attachments to our things deepen with the passage of time [and] people are often surrounded by possessions that have followed them through good times and bad, across continents and back”.
Jewellery allows you to hold a little piece of home with you wherever you go. It can make you feel connected to your homeland, even when there is an ocean between you.
Images sourced from Pixabay.