The second edition of Sotheby’s ground-breaking selling exhibition dedicated to jewelry by persons of African descent will showcase more than 70 original works from 25 contemporary artists and designers. Titled, “Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment,” The event will be held at Sotheby’s London New Bond Street Galleries from September 22 till October 2 in full, and till the end of October as an edit. Below is a full list of the jewelers participating in the event.
For the second straight year, Melanie Grant, a journalist specializing in jewelry and author of Coveted: Art and Innovation in High Jewelry, curated the exhibition. In addition, all participating artists have created one new piece in response to Grant’s overarching theme of The Age of Enlightenment, a period which represents “a time of growth, individualism and intellectual reason,” she says.
This year’s exhibition is not only bigger than the previous year, but it has more breadth than the original show held in New York, which was created largely in response to the police killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matters movement.
Grant notes that the shock and horror from these headline events have subsided but the underlying issues remain. She compares this exhibition in terms of acceptance of Black art and culture as the Age of Enlightenment in 1300s that followed The Renaissance, saying it’s a time for “growth, individualism, and intellectual reason as well as the freedom to expand and explore, and to really settle into a new era of creativity.”
Grant says last year’s event was a statement from artists of African descent saying, “We’re here.” This year is an attempt to take this dialogue further by examining “Who are we?”
“The first show was about the awakening with George Floyd and finally getting recognition for our contribution with jewelry design, which was lacking in the past,” Grant told Forbes in an interview Monday. “It was such a moment and so emotional. People who came to the show really experienced the outpouring of joy as well as the sadness that it took so long to have this recognition…. The first one was like an explosion. This one is more thoughtful.”
Grant says that she and Frank Everett, Sotheby’s sales director for luxury, who was also instrumental in bringing Brilliant & Black to life, were both asking why no auction house has ever featured Black jewelry artists. They had no answer. “It just seems as if people felt there hasn’t been a market for this. Whatever happens, we feel like we turned a corner in some ways and now there’s a movement for Black designers. We felt like we were part of something different and exciting.”
In addition to being larger, Grant says that this year’s show is different because it’s dedicated to contemporary jewelers. She says this is a way to forge a path into the future of jewelry design for Black artists. It’s also why Grant encouraged all designers to create at least one new piece for the exhibition.
“Everyone is doing one new piece, some are doing up to three,” Grant says. “The difference between this time and last time is that all the designs are contemporary. We had this big moment last year. This awakening. Now we must move forward and not slide back to where we were before. Now we understand there is market, and we have to push further to see where we can take it.”
In defining this market, Grant sees a need to further distinguish between this community of Black jewelry designers and these designers as individuals.
“Frank (Everett) made a comment that Black designers in the states are different than in Europe. Being a Black designer in America is more political. In the UK there are different undertones, colonial things. Everyone has a different experience of Black when it comes to design. This is not a homogenous show. It’s about the individual rather than just Black people. Community is important but we must understand that everyone is different. There’s so many experiences and ideas and you have to respect everyone’s individual contribution.”
This young community suffered a tragic loss when Terry Castro, who creates under the name. “Castro,” died suddenly in July. He was extremely well-liked and loved for both his creativity and what has been described as his joyful personality. By all accounts he was a natural born leader who helped to provide an identity for this group. Castro’s son will be exhibiting his work for the show.
“We lost Castro, a shocking experience. That was very emotional for all of us. It made me realize how you just don’t know what’s going to happen. It made me think of why this show is so important. I’m so pleased I had the opportunity to spend time with him. We’ll be having a dinner the night before with friends and family and have a little drink in his honor and talk about him and his life. It’s been shocking because we really got to know him. It really pains me. He had so much to do creatively and he was taken away too soon.”
Full List of Participating Artists in Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment are as follows:
1. Disa Allsopp – NEW
2. Latoya Boyd – NEW
3. Shola Branson – NEW
4. Ndidi Eubia – NEW
5. Gina Love – NEW
6. Pascale Marthine Tayou via Elisabetta Cipriani gallery – NEW
7. Roxanne Rajcommar-Hadden – NEW
8. Sewit Sium – NEW
9. Melanie Eddy
10. Lola Fenhirst
11. Harwell Godfrey
12. Sheryl Jones
13. Vania Leles
14. Angie Marei
15. Satta Matturi
16. Johnny Nelson
17. Castro NYC
18. Jariet Oloye-Oduto
19. Jacqueline Rabun
20. Catherine Sarr
21. Maggi Simpkins
22. Karen Smith
23. Ten Thousand Things
24. Lorraine West
25. Thelma West