JEWELLERY: MADE BY, WORN BY at Museum Volkenkunde – Museum of Ethnology, Leiden

Leiden’s National Museum of Ethnology exhibits over 1,000 pieces of jewellery from its staggering collection containing more than 30,000 items. Its jewellery collection consists of examples from all over the world. This temporary exhibition focuses on jewellery designers and creators, though wearers are not forgotten.

Some advice: you need a €1 coin to use a locker. Visiting this exhibition: take along a stash of €2 coins. I’ll explain further down, but an exhibition catalogue costs €2.

This exhibition is divided into themes. Main themes are materials. These are nature, silver, beads, gold. The four main themes are subdivided.

On entering, there are several large video screens on which a few designers tell stories. The sound and repeats spilled over in adjacent rooms. Like plenty visitors, this got on my nerves.

So I walked into the first exhibition room, on the right. Despite having a catalogue, it took time to figure out how this exhibition worked. It was not just having to search for an item’s right number in the right section.

Catalogue and exhibition were differently organized. Furthermore, on finding the right page and locating the right exhibit number, there was the problem of finding a spot with enough light to read.

I found myself staring at the “Nature, Jade” theme? An English text on display told me so. But “Nature” in the catalogue starts with some other material. “Jade” in the exhibition is among different natural materials than in the catalogue.

I abandoned trying to read information, explanations very fast. Like other visitors, I became irritated. Moreover, visitors without catalogue started to ask me questions, wanted information, sought explanations.

Each theme and sub-division shows items from all over the world. There is small stuff, large stuff, real stuff, fake stuff, Maori stuff, Costa Rican stuff, Chinese stuff, old stuff, modern stuff. “Jade” is just a small part within the “Nature” theme.

“Nature” deals with stone, mother-of-pearl, shells, teeth and nails, hair, ivory, bone, plants and trees, fibers, seeds, beetles, turtle, birds and feathers, fleeces, pelts, cotton. I might have skipped a few, but you understand the scope.

If you are one of the people suddenly gone utterly political correct: visit some other museum. Happily, this one is not afraid to show that earth, life, nature and most humans are not “nice”. There are no shrunken heads, but plenty exhibits show earth’s motto: ‘eat or be eaten, use or be used – waste not’.

Leaving “Nature”, I returned to the room with videos. At the back, videos can be watched using headphones. More designers and creators explain how they make their jewellery. One hunted for shells. Like him, I like combing beaches. Now I know what I can do with my shells.

From here, enter the long corridor. Inside, stories are told about precious stones. There is a work bench for four people and various sets of tools. Videos show how stones are cut and worked, or some beads are made.

Fascinating to learn, some crafts are restricted to specific people. Western Europe bought off its guilt over one of its periods of ethnic cleansing by creating Israel? All Jewish craftsmen from many Mediterranean countries migrated, taking with them their experience, skills, knowledge, crafts, trade – in jewellery-making.

Along this corridor, rooms are dedicated to ‘silver’, ‘gold’, ‘beads’. In the ‘silver’ one, Sámi examples fascinated me. Designed and worn by Sámi – but not made by them.

A text informed me that these nomads follow their herds. Like all nomads, they travel light. Sámi design and wear, but have other people create their jewellery.

All people the world over have materials, designs, colours, items, which can only be worn by men. Others are specifically created for and worn by women, or children. Traditions, restrictions, meaning are explained.

You may be surprised by jewellery created by Sanaa Gateja from Ghana. He uses paper beads.You will be dazzled In the ‘gold’ room. Items come from Indonesia to South America and from work created by Asante to bling-bling from the Johari Bazaar.

About those €2 coins? You need it in the room dedicated to you.

In this room, you become designer, creator, wearer of your very own, unique jewellery. Aren’t you pretty pleased? Mind: kids only allowed in, while supervised by adults.

The room contains a machine. Put a €2 coin in a slot and out pops a plastic “egg”. It contains beads and other items to create a piece of jewellery. The museum provides tools, work benches, materials.

Use one of the chairs at one of the tables. Various bobbins have different kinds of threads which can be cut into any length. You only need to decide which item you want to create. Clear instructions in English and Dutch are provided. So put your coin in the slot, open your “egg” and start creating. Once finished, head for the photo boot, in the corner. Get your pic taken, wearing your very own work of art. A unique piece of jewellery, designed and created by you!   Kate Den   24th January 2018


Jewellery: made by, worn by continues until 3rd June 2018.