Saturday, February 14, 2009

Portrait #70: The Rasta Silverware Jewellery Guys

We got to know a small slice of the Nairobi art scene the other day when we met up with the Rasta Silverware Jewellery Guys. We went to buy some of said silverware jewellery, and found ourselves in their workshop - or it might have been someone's home, I'm not sure - surrounded by beaded jewellery, cords and wires, copper doodads, the Washington D.C. metro map, paintings and other bits of artwork, some random books, and pile after pile of silverware.

These guys travel around the world, both physically and via E-bay, to find old forks and spoons that they then purchase and re-shape to make jewellery. There were bracelets made of bent-up forks, with each tong turned in a unique direction. There were bracelets made of spoons cut in half, bent into half-moons, then re-fashioned using bits of wire. There were necklaces made of spoon tops and spoon bottoms. There were pendants made of forks bent in half, the bend being the hole through which the wire of cord could be threaded. And there were all kinds of different rings made from bits of forks and spoons. Plus, there were earring projects started but not yet completed. There must have been 500 or more pieces of silverware in the flat, some still whole, others already fashioned into jewellery, and yet others in process.

As we fingered our way through the selection - which was gorgeous and certainly not cheap - we chatted with the two guys. The guy who looked to be in charge had short dreads, partly graying, with a goatee. He wore a black t-shirt and black trousers, and had a few of his rings on his fingers.

His friend had extremely long dreads, but only about five thick ones. He wore patchwork jeans and a black t-shirt. Every single one of this fingers had a silverware ring on it, he wore one of the bracelets on one hand, and there were two pendants around his neck, one of a bent fork and the other an enormous brass cross. Enormous meaning easily two hand lengths in height. He was one of those people it's hard not to stare at.

They didn't seem to mind us being in their space at all. They had us sit on the one lumpy sofa, and chatted as they pulled out more and more bracelets and rings for us to look at. When they learned I used to live in Baltimore, the first guy waxed elegant about everything Baltimore: the drug problem and the abandoned houses, the famous people who have lived there in the past, the neighbourhood which he both loves and hates (Fells Point, for you Baltimoreans present). He studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art, so Baltimore's a home for him. When he learned I taught public school there, he made the appropriate expression of shock - plus a little.

Then it came out that I'm moving to Kosovo. The second guy has been there before, right before the war broke out there - 12 years ago or so. What was he doing there? Just travelling around. What's it like? A shithole, he said. Everyone's miserable and drinks a lot. Then he and his friend laughed so heartily and joyfully that I found myself not even minding the statement he'd made about my new residence.

They joked and chatted about this and that. It was one of those conversations that jumps from topic to topic, that carries itself with minimal stress. They could talk about everything and did. They talked about Kenya's art scene and showed us some gorgeous paintings they had just obtained. They said they had to look hard to find the good stuff, though, and invited us to visit their gallery someday. It's just outside of the city.

The one joke I remember clearly was when the topic of airport security came up. The first guy said he hates them, they are just terrible - and they do no good. He was grinning as he said this, so he didn't seem too bothered by their awfulness. As illustration, he pointed to his friend. He said, "Now take my friend here. When he goes through airport security, he's going to beep, right?" Remember, the guy has an enormous ring on each finger, the biggest cross I'd ever seen around his neck, plus some! "But they get suspicious. They make him take it all off." His friend stands up and starts pointing to his different items of jewellery. "Then they ask him if he's carrying a weapon of some sort, and he says, 'No, I'm just a peace-loving Rastafarian.' But they're not convinced so they make him keep taking things off and keep taking things off. Isn't it obvious he's got a lot of jewellery? Every time... Let the poor guy through. Then, at the same time, someone else is getting through with God knows what and they don't care!" He was laughing as he said this and his friend was, too. Reading what I've just written, it doesn't look like such a funny joke - but they thought it was funny and enjoyed it, which made it absolutely hilarious to me.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi There, thanks so much for your writings on Nairobi - I so enjoyed reading them:) I visited Kenya about a month ago and purchased this beautiful bracelet made of silverware in Mombasa. I think its the same guys who you have written about. I know the bracelet was made in Nairobi. Would you be able to help me to connect with them as I would dearly love to get a necklace to match. I so love their work. Could you help as I have tried very hard but have only found your blog about them on the net? Thanks so very much.

Katiek patrianoceu said...

Dear anonymous,

The guys gave me their card and I'll try to go through my stuff and look for it. Hopefully can find you something, but I'll need some contact info for you as I'm not sure I should just post that info on the web.

Cheers,
patrianoceu

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrianoceu, thanks so much for responding. I would be so grateful for any help you can offer me. My email address is: suetim@iafrica.com.

Thanks so much!

Gianluca said...

can you send me his contacts too?

gianluca.crispi@gmail.com

cheers,
gianluca

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