Our love of personal adornment is universal. It was born of the delight in the visual and sensory pleasures when humans began decorating their bodies with natural materials. Soon we realised that wearing jewellery could change us in the eyes of others: jewellery could make us more attractive or could symbolise power and status. Through the belief in magical powers of some materials and images, it was thought that jewellery could protect us from known and unknown dangers and bring love, health and prosperity.
A fascinating window into our past, jewellery remains an essential part of cultures around the globe. It can adorn, empower and mark events while communicating identity, individuality, creativity and values. We make, wear, give, receive and collect jewellery. In a myriad of wondrous ways, jewellery expresses and contributes to our spiritual, cultural and emotional lives.
A Fine Possession: Jewellery and Identity will celebrate the central place of jewellery in cultures from antiquity to the present-day. The exhibition will explore how we express our identity, individuality and creativity through jewellery; while jewellery we ear can reinforce our personal or cultural uniqueness, creative jewellers can express their identity through jewellery they design and make.
A Fine Possession will present over 700 pieces of jewellery from Australia, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific. Among the rarely seen items on display will be ancient Egyptian scarab jewels, Chinese kingfisher-feather jewels and a magnificent tiara and necklace made from exotic beetles for an English aristocrat. Australian highlights will include gold-rush jewellery, Indigenous necklaces made from pearl shells, a diamond Art Deco brooch in the form of aviator Charles Kingsford-Smith’s legendary Southern Cross aircraft and the ‘Satine’ diamond necklace worn by Nicole Kidman in the film Moulin Rouge.
A striking selection of contemporary studio jewellery will reveal the imagination and skill of leading local and international jewellers working at the crossroads of art, craft, design and fashion. In addition students from local tertiary institutions have crafted jewellery, inspired by objects in the Museum’s collection, which will provide an insight into the creativity and flair of the next generation of jewellers.
The exhibition is organised into nine themes: Belief & Magic; Love & Death; Nature Culture; Style & Revival; Gold & Identity; Status & Wealth; Men & Adornment; Modernity & Change; and Evolution & Revolution. The exhibition is drawn from the Museum’s collection as well as selected public and private collections, such as that of Sydney collector Anne Schofield (see story following page).
A Fine Possession: Jewellery and Identity opens at the Powerhouse Museum on 20 September 2014
This article was originally published in the Spring edition of Powerline 2014.