The Islanda Collection: An Ode to Ancient Cultures

Posted by Rae Gellel on

Shine is the Goldsmiths’ Centre’s annual celebration of fresh talent in the jewellery and silversmithing industries, highlighting ten up and coming designer makers whose work is as rich in theme and meaning as it is skilfully crafted.

Among those chosen for this year’s programme is Halina Mutinta of Halina Mutinta Jewellery, a Brighton-based jeweller who draws deep from her Sub-Saharan roots to create contemporary gold jewellery inspired by ancient cultures, particularly the custom of expressing oneself through bold and beautiful bodily adornment.

What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?

I've always had a creative streak within me. At first I was really interested in photography, it was something I fell in love with when I was growing up so I ended up pursuing it along with dentistry. It was whilst I was studying photography that I discovered a jewellery-making course and fell in love with the craft. I had an existing interest in jewellery, as during my childhood my mum would give me her hand-me-down chunky, 90’s style silver jewellery that I loved and was fascinated by. I still own a lot of that jewellery today. So I’ve always been drawn down a creative path. I knew I wanted to do something with my hands and to make things, but it took me a while to figure out what form that would take. Now I’ve found jewellery-making, I haven’t looked back, it feels very natural.

Is there anything you particularly like about the qualities of working with gold, which is obviously your chosen metal?

I absolutely love the colour of gold! I've always been a gold person. I find that gold, especially the higher carats, is beautiful to work with. The softness of the metal and the ease in manipulating it is fantastic. It’s a material that’s been around for centuries, that’s timeless and beautiful. I enjoy working with 18 carat, it’s my favourite, and sometimes 22 although it can be a little bit soft.

Can you tell us a bit about the collection you’ll be debuting at Shine 2023?

The collection is called is Islanda, which means hand in Tonga, my native tribe in Zambia. Prior to 1940, Zambia and Zimbabwe were one country, Northern and Southern Rhodesia. So a lot of my ancestor’s history comes from Zimbabwe, as well as from Zambia, because they were once the same country.

Hands are a recurring motif throughout the collection, because I feel they’re a symbol of protection and unity. The idea of carrying something around your neck or on your body that makes you feel protected, I think is really beautiful and special. I like to keep things playful, too, so the jewellery is designed to be played with, with moveable parts, to remind you that you’re not alone each time you touch it. I’ve also incorporated beads into the collection, as they are a huge part of the culture in certain regions of Africa, particularly the southern side of Africa, and I’ve always wanted to showcase them through my jewellery. 

Can you tell us what you've learned through the process of planning and creating this collection?

The collection is inspired by pattern work and indigenous designs derived from ancient Africa, something that I have a huge interest in. I feel like any type of body adornment, even tattooing, is just such a powerful form of self-expression, and is really important. I'd love to tap into that through jewellery-making.

Another source of inspiration incorporated in the collection is the Great Zimbabwe, a ruined mediaeval city abandoned in the 15th century in the southern hills of Zimbabwe. The Great Zimbabwe was believed to be a palace for monarchy and was full of beautiful objects, like pottery and jewellery, but it was looted by colonisers before many of these could be recovered, so they have been lost to history. So another aspect of my collection is trying to imagine what could have been looted from this beautiful, prehistoric place. No-one knows what was there, so I am operating entirely from my own imagination, but I still feel there’s a power to meditating on my ancestry and how that could have been eroded by colonisation.

Can you tell me a bit about your design process?

When I first started working on the collection, I was pouring over books, heading to museums and exhibitions, and generally trying to get as much inspiration as I could. I normally carry my notebook with me and if something pops into my head, I'll quickly draw it. When I'm initially designing a piece, I'll start off with sketching and then move on to a digital platform, like an iPad, as it’s a little easier to amend the design digitally, and to experiment and play around with it until it looks like what I have in my head.

I'm definitely drawn to history, to thinking about my heritage and how my ancestors would have liked to have adorned themselves with jewellery. I find that so fascinating – considering how similar jewellery making techniques are now to how they were in the past. They’re pretty much exactly the same, especially when you're working with lost wax, so I think it’s just one of the most beautiful, traditional ways of making jewellery, it's been around for forever. I love to research anything to do with my heritage, it’s just an instinct that's quite strong within me. I've got a real deep fascination with the past.

Has the process of making this collection enabled you to explore any new techniques or materials?

I've always worked with wax, but throughout this collection I’ve been using it to create more sculptural pieces. I played around with creating hands in wax which was challenging but fun, and I’d like to explore it further, along with setting smaller stones and using a wider variety of stones in my work. So I’ve been experimenting with different processes.

What do you enjoy most about being a maker?

I enjoy the freedom of being able to make whatever comes to mind. For example, if there’s a beautiful stone that I’ve fallen in love with, being able to work around that stone and create designs based on it is a joy. I love the calmness and stillness that I experience when I am making. It’s my time for quietness – before I’ve realised it, five hours have gone by and I’ve been working on a piece that whole time. I also love challenging myself to explore new things that might seem overly ambitious at first, that’s exciting.

Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?

I would say it was probably the talisman, which was one of the first pieces I made for this collection. It’s a spinning arm holding a stone. It was slightly challenging to make, but I love the playfulness of it, I love being able to fidget around with it when I wear it myself, and I really enjoy the length of it as well. It's such a statement piece, it’s really noticeable.

Do you have a particular client in mind when designing your jewellery? And when people are wearing your jewellery, how do you hope it will make them feel?

I create modern jewellery with an ancient vibe. When I'm designing my jewellery, I tend to go with what I would enjoy wearing. I don't tend to have a particular audience in mind, I make what I want to make, and if that fits into a certain category or if someone enjoys wearing it, then that's great. Whether a piece looks more feminine or more masculine doesn't bother me, I just make what I think looks nice, and then see where it naturally fits in.

I hope when people wear my jewellery, it brings them a powerful sense of self-expression. My jewellery might not be suited to or liked by everybody, but I hope if someone is wearing one of my pieces, it’s because they love it as much as I do.

What are your professional and creative goals over the next few years?

I would love to play around with the idea of designing body piercing jewellery, and even learning how to pierce interests me – creating my own body jewellery designs that I can then pierce with would be amazing. Creating a larger and stronger ring collection would also be great, and experimenting with introducing more silver so that my jewellery is more inclusive and accessible.

In the future, I’d really like to start creating jewellery inspired by masks, sculptures, and objects that have been prominent in African culture for generations. I think my fascination began when I was exposed to this rich cultural heritage, and the artistic expressions of various african tribes. The masks and sculptures aren’t only captivating aesthetically, I also feel like they carry a very deep symbolic meaning and historical significance, and I have been quite inspired to encapsulate this and bring the masks and sculptures to life by turning them into small metal objects.


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