I Am Enough

4 mins read
multiple organic silver rings on a woman's hand

Bungalow Heaven resident Elmaz Kerimova creates one-of-a-kind rings, earrings and pendants from what’s called “fine” silver — 99.9 percent pure precious metal, far higher than the more common sterling silver. Her forms are organic, calling to mind the sensuous sterling shapings of Elsa Perretti for Tiffany.

Kerimova integrates tiny flecks of fire in the form of bright gemstones into her unique designs, as well as the occasional pearl and hand-applied gold plating. Literally unique, each piece is painstakingly hand-formed from scratch, using fine silver in clay form. Each one is a “one-off.”

By contrast, commercial, mass-produced jewelry, including outlandishly expensive gold jewelry, is cast. This means that a wax model is made, then coated in what’s called an investment, another word for a mold. The wax is then melted out of the investment, leaving a perfect hollow shell. Melted metal is then slung into the open mold by using a centrifugal caster. With this method, it’s possible to churn out hundreds of thousands of identical pieces.

Hello, Zales, hello, Kay.

We recently caught up with Kerimova over coffee and a cookie at Panera, and we asked why she does it the hard way. She smiled and said, “I do it for me.”

Candy-colored confetti comes to mind when sliding one of her statement rings over the knuckle. The shapes are plush and pillowy, gently asymmetrical. Aquamarines, amethysts, garnets, sapphires and other sustainable, lab-created (versus mined) stones, some as small as 1 millimeter, blaze in playful scatterings across the surface. She says, “I don’t really sketch it out much. I kind of go by intuition as to where to place the stones.”

Using a silicone pen dipped in a drop of water, she pushes each stone into place, forming constellations of color across the slightly matte surface. “The trick is, how far to push? Too far and the stone almost disappears. Not far enough and the stone can pop out.’” Glue of any kind is a no-no: the stones are held in place by tension, set elegantly flush with the metal.

Upon closer inspection, patterns and messages subtly emerge. Some of the bands bear the statement in capital letters, spelled out in sparkling stones: “I AM ENOUGH.” Others read “I DO IT FOR ME.” The effect feels like spying an SOS from the air, spelled out in driftwood and seashells on a deserted beach.

There is urgency in these lovely coded messages. Born and raised in Ukraine, Kerimova and her husband arrived in the USA in 2019. Her parents soon followed. And then came COVID.

“I belong to the indigenous Crimean Tatar culture,” she explains. “Our culture is quite small, and quite ancient. Crimean Tatars have been denied basic human rights and persecuted under many regimes in my country, and even now we experience discrimination in Ukraine.” Kerimova reveals that she was bullied in school for her skin color, and her ethnicity.

“This is why I create art which celebrates strength, especially a woman’s strength,” she says. “As indigenous people, we endured a lot in Ukraine. We were so happy to get to the USA, and I love California. Believe it or not, it feels a lot like Crimea, with the mountains, and the sea, even some of the same plants. But getting here just when COVID happened was tough. I realized how fragile everyone is, including myself.”

As a young girl in Crimea, Kerimov was inspired by the kilim textiles, ceramics, paintings and other artistic expressions of an accomplished uncle. She enjoyed creating with clay, and pursued her studies in architecture and urban planning, earning her Master’s degree at the University of Lvov. “I always wanted to be an interior designer, or I thought I did,” she said. “I do love creating furnishings, but the life of an interior designer was too stressful. My husband said, ‘You like jewelry, why not do that?’ So I went that way, just to see.”

Kerimov is entirely self-taught, calling upon her deep knowledge of traditional Crimean embroidery designs as the template for many of her creations. “In that embroidery tradition, every flower has a specific meaning,” she explains. “An almond blossom signifies a young woman, a tulip a young man. A tall cypress tree is a man’s symbol, while a rose, surrounded by thorns, symbolizes a mature woman.” The Khamsa, or Hamsa, known to some as the Hand of Fatima, the protective hand-shaped talisman found across the Mediterranean, Middle East and the Maghreb, as well as stylizations of the evil eye, also surface in her work from the to time, like deep ancestral memories.

She carves her own interpretations of these folkloric motifs into the surfaces of pendants and rings. As for the thorns surrounding the rose, she says “During COVID, I came to the understanding that I had to put myself first. This runs contrary to what my traditional culture tells me, and frankly a lot of what I see here in America. In both cases, society tells women that we are here to accommodate our men. During COVID, I realized that I had to put the oxygen-mask on myself when the plane loses altitude and the cabin-pressure drops.” 

With this in mind, the artist adapts the old designs to fit modern sensibilities. For instance, a classic motif depicts a tall cypress tree surrounded by cornflowers and vines. The cypress historically symbolizes a man, while the curving, curling vines stand for gracious feminine accommodation. Today, Kerimova replaces the macho cypress with the woman’s rose.

She chooses lab-created gems primarily because they can sustain the heat of the kiln she uses to fire her fine silver clay forms to a durable finish— otherwise, fine silver containing virtually no stiffening alloy would be too soft to wear. “Natural gems would just explode at those temperatures,” she says. Lab-created gems are identical in their chemical composition to those dug from the earth. In every sense, they are “genuine.” And, of course, by contrast, all natural gems, not limited to only the notorious “blood” diamonds, are extracted from deep deposits at hideous human and ecological cost.

“I love creating around the zodiac, and birthstones,” she says. “Just like the floral patterns of the old embroidery, where women artists sewed a sort of family portrait depending upon what motifs they used, my pieces tell a story and make a statement.” She’s currently exploring the theme of mothers and daughters— just in time for Mother’s Day gifting (Sunday, May 12)— and may soon venture into learning enameling. “I watched a video on TikTok,” she laughs, “but it’s a little harder than it looks.”


www.awakeaesthetic.com

The short URL of this article is: https://localnewspasadena.com/hdvc

Victoria Thomas

Victoria has been a journalist since her college years when she wrote for Rolling Stone and CREEM. Victoria describes the view of Mt. Wilson from her front step as “staggering,” and she is a defender of peacocks everywhere.
Email: [email protected]

2 Comments

  1. Symbolism and secret coding is a gift, in a sense, that comes with living under oppressive conditions. The urge to create beauty often arises from trauma, as well. As a poet who began to write at age 4, I understand this in a personal way.

    I really savored learning about the relevant historical background and the insightful meaning Elmaz Kerimova creates and brings into her lovely work — that she dares to trust her intuition and create! — and the fascinating insights you provide into her craft. Thank you Victoria. Another wonderful piece.

    Now, despite the powerful affirmation that I am enough, I think I may need a new ring!

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Leah!
    When I see people relate to art and meaningful messages behind it, I do believe that Art saves the world.
    I would love to read your poems and connect. Please message me on instagram, my name is Awakeaesthetic there.

    Thank you,
    Elmaz

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