There’s something special and very unusual about Robben Island Jewellery that makes wearing it seem very personal. Charmaine Taylor creates jewellery and art using the original fence from Robben Island Prison, which once held captive Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Katherada and many more political prisoners during the apartheid years. A very labour intensive process is employed to repurpose the fence into original, stunning pieces of art and jewellery. Some of the profits are used for sustainable employment projects in the local community.
I had the opportunity to discuss the jewellery and its fascinating history with Charmaine Taylor.
“I create jewellery and art from the original fence from Robben Island Prison, which once held captive Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Katherada and many more political prisoners during the apartheid years. This rusted material is very symbolic of each political prisoners’ journey and how the past walls have been broken down and freedom was achieved. I always loved Nelson Mandela for the way he led our country into our first peaceful democratic election in 1994. It is a miracle story and Mandela led with such grace and forgave so much. I never got to meet Nelson Mandela but I can keep his memory alive by creating jewellery and art through Legacy Collection.”
“What inspires me is creating art that makes a difference in my immediate community and tells a story to encourage and heal people. I ran my own design and marketing company called Love Design and during this time a dear friend of mine Chris Swift rescued the maximum security prison fence from Robben Island. He asked me to assist with some of their graphic design and packaging. So the Robben Island fence, since its beginning, has been part of my business life. I then felt a shift and need to do something more in my community and started to love working with people and creating a difference in doing art.”
“My heart is very much for supporting local communities and specifically creating skilled employment. My whole range is created locally in Cape Town, South Africa. Each piece is so special to me as an artist as the fence is always different, each piece also gets a unique serial number engraved on it with a certificate of authenticity. I am passionate about giving back and I give away 10% of my profits to local employment companies and also to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.”
“The jewellery is made from maximum security prison fence that was originally steel with a white plastic coating. The fence then started to rust and eat away at the white plastic casing. You can see this throughout my range. It is quite beautiful to create art and jewellery with. It is not easy to work with and I myself have many scars to prove it on my hands, I have literally bled many times. Each piece responds differently to heat, bending and the sealing process.”
“I have 2 collections which are created very differently. The original range I call “wearable art” where I encase the rusted metal in precious metals. So the fence is sealed in a lengthy process of forming metals around the actively rusting fence. Some pieces in this design process takes up to 8 weeks to finish. It is very handmade and time consuming to check. I was very determined to get this artistic process right and took me almost a year to totally perfect. In my second range I am now exposing the raw fence into my designs and sealing it in a transparent case. There is such beauty in the rusted brown metal, it is a very unique range. I start by creating a shape with the original fence, I then make a mould of the fence in pure silver, yellow or rose gold. Once I have it in a precious metal I then cut out a piece and place it with a raw piece so it looks like the fence is being exposed.”
This Mandela Day Charmaine has created 67 limited edition necklaces for Mandela Day 2016. She is giving away all proceeds to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (part of the Nelson Mandela Foundation). It is only available online and which so many layers of history in each piece and a good cause at the heart of this collection, you should check it out.
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