For the longest time, I would stare at my bare pierced ear lobe in the mirror after stacking necklaces around my neck. I was nonchalant about wearing earrings as I couldn’t find any reason to wear them; I had not felt any sentimental value or sense of connection towards any earrings.. Our outer appearance – the clothing and the adornments we choose to wear – is a form of expressing our identity and affirming our individual convictions, whether we do so subconsciously or consciously.
“Who are you?”
“Where are you from?”
These are questions that placed me into a spiral train track of thoughts. I genuinely didn’t have answers to those questions and I found it troubling for a while before a series of train-wrecking existential crises. Being biologically Nigerian and a diasporan in Egypt, the concept of fitting in or a feeling of belonging never existed for me. With the clash of both African and Arabian cultures, I knew I had to push and establish my own ever-growing boundaries to be able to finally come to terms with living outside a designated box. It’s like colouring outside the lines rather than being a fish accepting the barriers of a trapping net. Hence, I began a personal journey of discovering my own identity and uncovering my roots: The Fulani Culture.
“Kwoteneye” or “Bhoylé” are timeless jewelry pieces originating from Fulani culture. Coming from a line of royal Fulani blood, I started to indulge in the significance such jewelry could hold as they were described to be heavy with the sign of nobility and wealth. They had such a cultural significance as Fulani women wore them in different sizes drenched in pure gold in half wrapped red thread or leaf-like shape. I perceived it as a form of artistic self-expression because not only did the Kwoteneye reflect the sun in its essence but it enhanced a woman’s beauty and elevated her sexuality. The earrings worn made a statement with an attitude embedded in the history of traditions. Upon careful reflection and internal deliberation, I concluded that ironically it was not wealth that made these earrings significant but rather, it was the sense of self-esteem and the depth of identity that the corners of their twists instilled.
Despite this human desire for belonging, there was a stronger and more radical side of me that opposed that need and challenged cultural tendencies by embracing individuality. As an artist, it is only expected that this personal exploration will inspire me to create art. That corresponds to the parallel paths of beauty and art, regardless of the forms they exist in, whether on a canvas or through a twisted-shaped earring.
Reconnecting to my roots through jewelry changed my perception of beauty. While beauty might as well be an illusion perceived by our brains through our sight, it definitely taps into our emotions and identities. As many factors are taken into consideration when “beauty” is discussed, and its definition is embraced subjectively by different cultures, the “Kwoteneye” presented beauty embodied in the history of my culture, shaping my identity.