Through a worn-down entrance gate and down the cement road of an amusement park, lays an antique carousel and a historic streetcar in a mysterious atmosphere that looks like a set out of a movie. Walking into a small room with jazz music playing in the background and an iPad at the front of the door entrance, you would hardly think you were entering the studio of a metalsmith and jewelry designer. For Mawadda Alaswadi, this is her cozy space and where her precious and imaginative pieces are crafted.
American with Yemeni roots, Mawadda Alaswadi creates her handmade pieces with a touch of natural and architectural elements. She talks to La Voix du Yémen about her personal journey to jewelry making, the inspiration of her work and the energy she finds in creating her own jewelry. She speaks about the intersectional visibility of culture and identity found in her dynamic jewelry.
La Voix du Yémen (LVDY): Tell us a little about yourself. Who is Mawadda Alaswadi?
Mawadda Alaswadi: I am an artist and a creative thinker. My family migrated from Yemen to the United States in 1989. I was five at the time when we moved from Yemen to Maryland and I have been living here almost ever since. I attended University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and obtained my BFA in Jewelry Design.
LVDY: When did you know you wanted to start making jewelry?
Alaswadi: I have always known I wanted to become an artist but I never knew what medium I would work with. When I graduated high school, I decided to attend Montgomery College, a local community college in Maryland, to explore my different options. I took an introduction to a metalsmithing jewelry design class and I absolutely fell in love with it. As soon as I held that torch I knew I wanted to make jewelry. But the beginnings weren’t so easy. I couldn’t even light the torch from how scared I was, but holding it alone, with all its challenges, was an empowering and scary feeling that kept me going.
LVDY: What is your preferred design style?
Alaswadi: I don’t have one style. I’m inspired by everything but I am mainly fascinated by architecture and nature so I often try to merge them into my designs. In some of my collection, like my square line, the architectural clean lines are more predominant. In my cast pieces, I tend to create pieces that are organic. My pieces are minimal but with something a little unexpected.
LVDY: What goes into making jewelry? Or in other words what is the design process like?
Alaswadi: First I need something to inspire me, whether it’s a stone, textured metal, photograph, building, or a conversation, it could really be anything. Then I take out my little book and start sketching away different ideas. Once I make a sketch I like, I sketch more ideas to see how far I can take that design. If it’s complicated I make a prototype with copper and see if I like it. Then I physically start constructing the piece.
LVDY: And how long does it take you from conceiving a new idea to actually making it?
Alaswadi: If its a new design sometimes 10 hours, if not more. It involves many processes like cutting, forming, soldering, filing, and polishing.
LVDY: Where do gain your inspiration from?
LVDY: What do you love most about designing and creating your own jewelry?
Alaswadi: I absolutely enjoy designing but physically working on a piece is by far my favorite. It’s hard work with lots of hours but there’s a certain amount of romanticism in creating your own silver. I feel connected. Seeing an idea come to life is an incredible feeling.
LVDY: Your signature pieces have an architectural feel to it, they capture movement and form. What kind of ideas do you express in those pieces?
Alaswadi: When I create jewelry I think of them as mini sculptures that belong on the body.
LVDY: What are some of your favorite materials to work and create with?
Alaswadi: I really enjoy working with silver.
LVDY: What are some creative challenges you face?
Alaswadi: One challenge I face is coming up with designs. It’s one thing to draw something nice and another thing to actually create it and turn it into a physical piece of art that came out looking exactly how you imagined it to be.
LVDY: What have you learned over the course of being a designer?
LVDY: If you could sum up your look and aesthetic in three words, what would they be?
Alaswadi: Organic, sculptural, and modern
LVDY: Is there a piece that you are most proud of? If so, why and what does it mean to you?
Alaswadi: That’s a hard one. I can’t discriminate between my kids, I love them all! (laughing) I feel the necklace I made my senior year is the one I am most proud of. So many challenging techniques were used to create that piece, so I learned a lot.
LVDY: In addition to designing metal jewelry, I heard you were teaching?
Alaswadi: Yeah. I always wanted to teach but was too shy and too scared to do it. Blair Anderson, a Jewelry designer and artist in residence that I work for and share the space with, came up to me one day and asked me to teach a Lost-wax casting class and although I was terrified I somehow agreed. With time, I got better at teaching and began letting loose. I am so glad she asked because I enjoy teaching and interacting with the students. I can’t imagine myself not doing it.
LVDY: During the Arab Revolutions, you created bracelets that were more than just pretty arm candy. Each crafted bracelet carried a narrative, and proceeds went towards the medical needs of the injured protesters. What was that experience like?
Alaswadi: It was such a great experience working with people that wanted to make a change. It was motivating to create bracelets that were simple but raised awareness, consciousness and funds for an important cause.
LVDY: Are you in contact with any other Arabs in the region or in the diaspora that are also into Jewelry designing?
Alaswadi: I have met two Yemeni jewelry artists but it was brief.
LVDY: Yemen is known for it’s silver, do you see yourself making a collection that is Yemeni-inspired?
Alaswadi: Definitely! I would love one day to collaborate with Yemeni jewelry artists [in Yemen] to combine designs.
Interview conducted by Rooj Alwazir
Rooj Alwazir is a Yemeni-American organizer in Washington D.C., and co-founder of SupportYemen.Français