Using jewelry as an educational tool and a primary source material, Sewit Sium made African American youth learn about their history whilst teaching fashion politics and design at various High Schools in NYC.
“We literally know about the world because of what was engraved and memorialized in jewelry and stone. Jewelry is the oldest form of decorative arts, a phenomenon that was born on the African continent. Without it, we wouldn’t know about ourselves.”
Sium is an African designer whose handmade piece is a modern treasure infused with historical and cultural story, statement and sentiment.
According to her, she used jewelry to teach much of what is omitted from NYC Public School curriculum, from common core texts. “It’s crucial for us all to recognize and insert ourselves in our own stories – symbols, motifs, jewelry.”
Sewit Sium Jewelry was born in 2015 to uphold the idea that fashion is language and a powerful form of storytelling. “Each handcrafted piece takes us on a journey through history, while embodying a story that is relevant to our lives today. The line includes powerful amulets and talismans that anchor us in the present moment, only to say ‘I’m here but my history walks with me’.”
“I have the opportunity to hand-make meaningful jewelry that will outlast me. I’m always asking myself the question, what message do I want to send people 500 years from now? If the answer doesn’t revolve around truth-seeking, equality and justice, it’s not usually worth my time. Nothing against abstraction,” she said.
Through Sewit Sium Jewelry, Sium is continuing the legacy of hand-making statement jewelry encoded with history, culture, sentiment and love with the hope that people adorn and become activated and inspired by her work.
Making this exceptional jewelry is not an easy task as it sometimes takes a longer time to make and for the kinds of collections she makes, Sium says she becomes possessed and obsessed over the course of 3/4 months at a time. “I recently made Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X Medallions (took over a year!) to not only honor and channel their spirits but to remind us of what’s possible, that change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Always has.”
Sium describes designing jewelry as an exercise in memory. “It’s a reconjuring. It’s a tactile political and spiritual practice, during this time I feel touched by divine inspiration.”
She’s described herself as an activist and jewelry historian who draws on native African iconography that is relevant across time and space.
Sium’s mission is to reconnect cultural image and iconography with original context with an emphasis on visual political statements. She draws from a rich diversity of African iconographies and artistic movements from both the continent and its diaspora; each offering unique insights and stories of the world and our place within it.
“As a jewelry designer I’m interested in the animacy of objects. When my pieces are worn, they’re activated – that is, their story and felt sense of meaning are brought to life.”