The Museo de Arte Popular Jose Hernandez resides in an proud colonial building nearby the design hub of Buenos Aires in Recoleta.
As you enter this museum, you are provided with a text panel that includes in point form the defining elements of artesanías (craft). Here they are roughly translated:
- Be produced by manual workmanship with the use of tools of low technological complexity;
- Show an appreciable degree of processing of the raw material based on a specific skill;
- Have a recognizable functionality;
- Display an aesthetic value, which is integrated in some way with the functionality;
- Possess a recognizable cultural value in a particular socio-cultural and historical field
It seems a conservative list. The first criterion excludes craft involving digital technologies. Yet the fourth does acknowledge an aesthetic dimension. Surprisingly, in a Latin American context, nowhere in this list does it refer explicitly to craft as a traditional practice. This may be because of the profound discontinuities of Argentinean history that make ongoing traditions difficult to identify.
This discontinuity is evident in the displays. It seems a random assortment of objects, lacking the kind of narrative applied to modern art found in the nearby Museo de Bellas Artes. The objects vary dramatically in quality and are displayed in a lifeless fashion.
Yet, as often the case in Argentina, the lack of order in the official public realm enables something more spontaneous to emerge on the sideline. The temporary gallery is host to an extraordinary exhibition of contemporary jewellery inspired by Argentinean rock (not the stone, but the music!).
Unlike other ‘foreign’ imitations of Anglo rock’n roll, the Argentinean version is particularly home-grown, sung only in Spanish. It arrived in the 1970s with the emergence of ‘progressive rock’ with poetic lyrics and musical experimentation. During the 1980s, it weathered the dictatorship with the heavy nuevo rock Argentino.
To celebrate this tradition, the collective Huella Digital (Fingerprint including Juan Manuel Malm Green, Ignacio Arichuluaga and Oscar Linkovsky) created works for an exhibition Joyas del Rock (Jewels of Rock) featuring cabinets of jewellery inspired by different rock bands. Along with the jewellery, each display features graphics in the style of the music.
Here’s a translation of the text panel:
The exhibition is interesting for a number of reasons. The link between jewellery and music is relatively rare (You might have thought that tango would have been their reference, but that is perhaps more for tourists). While there are graphic references to the album covers, the design of the jewellery seems to be more based on the feelings that the music evokes. As the text indicates, jewellery plays a role in paying homage to a more ephemeral medium such as music.
Difficult choices … Can there be a music jewellery?
Memories of childhood, memorable moments, some romance led us to choose it.
We found hearts, hands, eyes, tears, people, facts, things of Argentina.
Love stories and urban landscapes.
Social stories, and spiritual journeys.
Jewels of Rock is a tribute to our country and its culture.
An appreciation done with fire, air, water, earth and music.
It’s also an interesting contrast to the Bone, Stone, Shell exhibition from New Zealand, which turned to the natural environment for a nationalist story. In Latin America, identity seems more anchored social history and cultural tradition, than an external element such as landscape. Despite this difference, both cases obviously share a privileged role for jewellery in acknowledging the historical value of their respective cultures.
Other relevant links in the Argentinean scene:
- Be My Walking Gallery in which an artist creates jewellery so that her paintings can circulate
- Juana de Arco fashion designer with outlet in Palermo that includes an excess of handmade items remixed from countries such as Paraguay
- Materia Urbana San Telmo design shop with good range of works
- Humawaca brand of accessories with distinctively Argentinean design