BEIRUT: Ceramist and professor Amal Muraywed has brought the idea of designer jewelry back down to earth this month, in her first solo jewelry exhibition featuring bangles, broaches and necklaces made from clay and glass.
“You don’t need diamonds,” she said, guiding The Daily Star through her show at the quaint Dehab Gallery, off Pasteur Street in Gemmayzeh.
“We need to use what we have ... The value is from the design.”
Muraywed, a longtime instructor at the American University of Beirut, is better known for her sculpture and functional ceramic work, which is often displayed in the city’s galleries and annual art fairs. Accordingly, her jewelry show, titled “Em Brace Let,” reflects decades of research into the ceramic arts, melding together ancient materials and techniques like bronze, glass-making and faience.
Similar in mindset to the movement calling for locally sourced food, Muraywed’s design philosophy builds artistic and technically complicated jewelry from local, sustainable resources.
“Even when I went to Paris for my [master’s], I worked with earthenware because the practical way is to take care with what you have, not to keep importing and importing.”
The mixture of clay, bronze and glass has given her work a very raw look, as though Muraywed dug up fossilized antiques straight from the earth. Gold leafing, splashes of colorful glaze and embedded glass contrasted with the natural look of fired clay. Occasionally, she incorporated more common jewelry elements like turquoise coloring, Swarovski crystal and Indian glass beads.
From a well-known family in Syria, Muraywed has lived in Beirut on and off since 1967, growing up and attending AUB during the Lebanese Civil War. When asked to explain more about her roots, the artist said she preferred to identify as a citizen of the region.
“I’ve traveled all over the world and I feel I’m a part of this sunny world. ... I belong to all of Lebanon, to all Syria and to all Iraq,” she said.
Muraywed studied at AUB during the war, when the fine arts program was on a decades-long hiatus due to lack of interest.
“If you have war there is no art,” she explained. And unlike some of her contemporaries, artists whose creativity has drawn from the perpetual tragedy of the region, Muraywed finds inspiration outside of the “ugliness,” as she put it.
“We live in a disturbed part of the world. Why would I want to reproduce what is ugly around us?” she asked. “This collection is to say I acknowledge all of the disturbances that we live within, but this should not stop us from doing beautiful art.”
The inspiration for her work comes from her own interactions with nature, stumbling upon a rusted piece of metal, for example, or watching water glisten in a running stream, she said.
“A pebble can be an inspiration.”
In addition to the local materials, Muraywed took pride in the use of age-old techniques. The region is credited with discovering ceramic arts, she explained. For example, a grouping of bracelets featured a bright aqua-colored tile made from an ancient method of fine glaze called faience, the same blue tiling that decorates some of the earliest mosques and churches in the Middle East.
Muraywed’s professional emphasis has been on her sculptural and functional ceramics, but she has been interested in jewelry-making since she was a young woman. While studying in France, she would sell handmade jewelry to make pocket money, she said.
“When I used to buy a necklace I would change it. I would cut the string and redo it because I wanted to wear something from my own style.”
Today, however, her jewelry is the result of decades of research into materials abundant in nature, and the show at Dehab is only a glimpse of Muraywed’s output. The distinctiveness of her work blurs the line between art and jewelry, as does the environmentalist message behind each of her clay creations.
“I love nature, but I hate what is going on around us,” she said. “People are really abusing it and I’m trying to tell people to take care.”
“Em Brace Let” will run at Dehab Gallery until May 24. For more information, contact the gallery on 01-563-236.