Misha Venter, one of the brightest-shining stars of this year’s BA Jewellery cohort, hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. Underwhelmed by the design education options of her local area, she was passionately looking to experience an entirely new setting if given the opportunity. “I’m very lucky that my parents were pushing me to leave,” she reflects. “I didn’t even know that jewellery design was a course that existed the way it does at Central Saint Martins.”
Venter’s approach to the ‘jewellery’ idiom is conceptual and ambitious, testing the boundaries of the fine medium of bodily ornamentation. “Jewellery is such a broad subject now, with fine jewellery being just a category within it,” she explains. “I think of jewellery as an extension of the body, a way to connect it to its surroundings. Jewellery is a way to adorn the body; it’s a wearable art form. What I love about conceptual or contemporary jewellery is that it can be almost anything with a connection to the body.”
Why do you take an interest in the body, both in a social, political and poetic context?
It’s not something I really decided, I just realised that that’s where I was getting my inspiration. The body is such an incredible organism so I can’t imagine not taking it into consideration, especially as jewellery is meant for it. I think I like to focus on social issues because it gets my blood boiling. The feminist issues have been particularly interesting for me at the moment because of how prolific it is, there are so many things popping up about it – for and against, and I guess I am at an age where I feel affected by it. Feminism is still a topic that is met with eye-rolling and I think if the subject can be met with a sensitivity and a sense of humour, more people will be open to learning more.
Tell us about your graduate project — what made you focus on the breasts and nipples of a woman?
I got really stuck at the beginning of the year, trying to find a starting point. I came across a lot of feminist theory that I found really interesting. At the time, my Facebook page was covered with articles on the ‘free the nipple’ movement and was really inspired, as I started to research it further. I found this group that had designed the ‘tata top’, which is a bikini top that resembles a pair of bare breasts. It was created in response to the ban on topless tanning in America. I loved the humorous approach to the serious issue. In the end, the movement isn’t really about the nipple, it’s about equality; the movement is just approaching it in a way that is guaranteed to make waves.
“I think of jewellery as an extension of the body, a way to connect it to its surroundings.”
How was the material process? Which techniques did you apply, and was that important to you?
At first I wanted to go a little crazy and use a lot of different material but found, in the end, that the simpler materials were more successful. I enjoyed using techniques more common to fine jewellery in a different context. My forms were inspired by lingerie and I used those lines to frame the breasts but in a firmer way. I didn’t want the pieces to be too sexy even though I was using material that is often used in a sexual context. A lot of people see the leather and think of bondage and, in a sense it is. I wanted the pieces to hold the body in a certain way but I also liked the contrast of precious and the fleshy materials. To be honest, I don’t think I put that much thought into the specific materials at the time. It was more about going through the possibilities until I settled on what felt right. If I was to take the project further, I might incorporate different materials but that really depends on how I feel that day.
Have you done any internships?
Unfortunately I haven’t done any internships yet because there are a lot of restrictions with my visa. It was great to be able to focus all of my attention on my studies but, in hindsight, I wish I had found a way around it, as experience carries a lot of weight when searching for work and building identity as a designer.
How was the response to your final project? Was it controversial at all?
Most people were actually quite open-minded about it. Considering the setting of the degree show, people aren’t expecting to see tame subject matters. It was really interesting to stand back and see peoples’ faces change as they saw what the pieces were, a few people seemed to think it was a bit much but the response was mostly positive. It was amusing to see how the men reacted, especially the older men coming with their wives or daughters. They would seem curious at first and then their eyes would widen and some would get quite embarrassed when they noticed the photographs. A lot of women smiled and a few had little ‘yeah!’ moments, which made me really happy.
Where do you hope to take your practice next?
There are so many things that I want to do. I feel that this project still has a lot of steam so I would love to take it further but how I am still not sure yet. Since graduating, I have realized that there are so many avenues to explore. I am hoping to go on to do a masters course, to further develop my work and sense of style as a designer. I really love working with contemporary jewellery but there are many other things that I would still like to try. I would like to see my work in a more fashion-related setting. I want my work on catwalks, in galleries – all the big places but I also don’t want to lose the joy of being hunched over a bench and just churning out whatever comes to mind.
Words by Jeppe Ugelvig
All photography courtesy of Misha Venter
For more of Misha, check out Issue 3