When the Metropolitan Museum of Art approached Ten Thousand Things to create jewelry to celebrate its new Afrofuturist exhibition, Ron Anderson and David Rees immersed themselves in the museum’s ancient African collections and the story of Seneca Village, a predominantly Black settlement in New York City that was destroyed in 1857 by the city to make way for Central Park. Acknowledging that injustice, the exhibition asks: What if this community had the opportunity to thrive?
The result is a capsule jewelry collection imbued symbolism and heritage—but through a contemporary lens. This ethos fits neatly into the New York-based designer's signature style, which draws from eclectic and artistic references, and illustrates their expertise as artisan craftsmen and jewelers.
The much anticipated Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room, which opens at the Met on November 5 for a two-year run, is designed to educate visitors about the lost Seneca Village and get them to imagine what life there would be like today if the community were given the chance to thrive through the lens of Afrofuturism.
That challenge also inspired designers Anderson and Rees to research Afrofuturism, and the works of Sun Ra, the American musician and filmmaker who was a pioneer of the Afrofuturist philosophy and aesthetic and whose work profoundly touched the designers. Rees says that despite obstacles, Sun Ra remained an optimistic force who called for “only good vibrations in the new world,” and that the spirit informed a jewelry collection that the designers hope will convey a sense of happiness, optimism, and beauty.
The Ten Thousand Things x Met collection showcases the African spirit of the past, present, and future with symbolic themes including sculptural sterling silver hoops with hand-cut crystals and lapis, authentic African trade beads encased in pendants with hand-carved ancient Egyptian symbols such as the ankh and scarab, and a series of silver constellation earrings that recall celestial motifs prominent in Afrofuturist design. More designs will be added during the exhibit’s two-year run.
“The Met had a great interest in working with local artisans like us on this project to create a link with the vibrancy of Seneca Village and what’s happening in New York City today,” explains Rees, whose 30-year-old business has a cult following. “I wanted to elevate the individual African bead with something from the past (the symbols) and the future.” He and his partner are working on sculptural bronze masks and headpieces which will be added to the collection in the next few months.
The Met Store also commissioned three other New York-based artisans to create capsule collections with a goal of inspiring audiences to learn more about Afrofuturism and the history of Seneca Village. The Harlem Candle Company created the “Seneca” candle inspired by the sensory experience of the exhibit; artist Roberto Lugo designed his signature ceramic urns with a portrait of Harriet Tubman, and the image which will also be transformed into a collection of t-shirts and mugs; and interior designer Sheila Bridges’s Harlem Toile de Jouy print will be showcased in the exhibit and her design was also printed on accessories for the store.
The collections are launching at The Met Store and online at store.metmuseum.org on October 25.
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