Yetunde Olagbaju is a multidisciplinary artist living in Oakland, California who draws on the natural world, ancestry, vulnerability, and space to create video, drawings, paintings, installations, and more. Her work weaves together vibrant color, form, and concept in a way that really made me excited to see the kind of custom piece I could make for her. Working with artists that have bold visions for self-adornment and ideas that stretch and challenge my skills as a jewelry maker are what excites me most. Sometimes the ideas of someone who has never worked with cord before are the most interesting because, in not knowing the limitations of the medium, they often request forms that defy the usual conventions. That lets me use my problem solving skills to figure out how to make it happen, and such was the case with the bottom piece of Yetunde's necklace... but more on that below.
I was first introduced to Yetunde when a mutual friend showed me a photo of her wearing a special art piece I made. The piece was a large white triangle shape with aqua tones, inspired by the Bay Area fog and sea. Sometimes I wonder where pieces go to when they get purchased in my webshop or from a stockist and its a magical experience when occasionally I get to meet the mystery person who lives with the piece. I instantly connected with Yetunde's inspiring work, her warmth, and humor and we talked about what her dream jewelry piece might look like. When she came by my studio we talked design and color inspirations, settling on a golden color scheme that felt deeply rooted in her Nigerian heritage and an idea for these soft stacked neck rings that I was really excited about. I had been thinking about a stacked set of ombre necklaces. that climbs of the neck for over a year but with all the scattered projects and ideas it got lost in the shuffle. This was the perfect opportunity to try the idea out and an ombre of golds conjured the image of Nigerian goddess Oshun, which seemed like a beautiful reference for her piece.
For the bottom part, Yetunde drew out an infinity shaped squiggle that is a very present curving form in her work-- with the metaphor of a strand of hair, the universe, and time it feels so referential to her exploration of ancestry and the universe. Trying to create the infinity shape with cord sounds easy until you consider the cord ends and how to neatly end them within the design of the piece. To easily and efficiently create this shape in an interesting way, I used a single cord, halved and crossed at the front. The cord ends then meet together on the left side of the necklace to be topped off with a clasp. The left clasp then hooks to a chain attached to the folded center of the strand which is the right side of the clasp. Each stacked "ring" around her neck is a separate necklace with a clasp and the bottom piece sits, molded over her décolletage and shoulders. The photo I took of the back of her necklaces during the shoot shows the beautiful chaos of the extender chains hanging when the necklace clasps are not lined up, but rather, twisted and jostled out of perfect position. I love a necklace where the clasp hardware incorporates into a beautiful part of the design, elevating the entire piece. Often as a jewelry designer, you have amazing ideas for necklaces but have no idea how to actually secure the back or make it function as such. A lot of times, the clasp hardware is an eyesore or afterthought, so when a jewelry designer makes it interesting, it is a thing to behold. In the case of this necklace, it was an amazing unintended consequence of creating stacked pieces with extender chain clasps that I happily realized. In Yetunde's original sketch she conceptualized some round pieces in the design. Although we considered putting a large brass mask pendant from African origins, in the end what felt right was a thrifted vintage metal circle I found months ago at Alameda Flea that feels modern and symbolic of the sun.
Yetunde and I headed to the Oakland Redwood Reserves Moon Gate trail to take these pictures.
You can view more of Yetunde's artwork here: https://yetundeolagbaju.com/
And follow her on Instagram here @Ye.tunde : https://www.instagram.com/ye.tunde/