Jewellery by Warwick Freeman

28 April 2007 - 26 August 2007

For over twenty years Warwick Freeman has been making jewellery that speaks about the complexities of living in Aotearoa New Zealand.  Prominent amongst a number of self-taught jewellers who revolutionised contemporary jewellery practice in Aotearoa in the 1980s, Freeman is unique in his continued questioning of cultural identity and jewellery practice. As this selection of 35 works illustrates, nothing is taken for granted in Freeman’s work.  Given showcases the output of a maker who has rigorously asked difficult questions about the politics, aesthetics and finally ethics of jewellery in a colonial/settler society like Aotearoa New Zealand.

‘Given’ underscores some major themes in Freeman’s work from 1980 to 2000.  At the level of practice or making, it refers to the way in which contemporary jewellery in Aotearoa in the 1980s made its first leap forward by drawing on the structure of natural materials such as paua (abalone) or oyster shell.  In the first section of this exhibition, ‘given’ indicates the way in which Freeman responded to the natural or ‘found’ structures of materials; and in turn this led to an engagement with Pacific traditions of adornment.  In the second section, featuring work from 1987 onwards, the ‘given’ becomes the emblems of a culture grappling with complex questions of cultural identity.  Rather than ‘found’ structures inherent in materials, Freeman draws on ‘found’ representations circulating in the culture at large. Here the issue is Maori culture, and the often contentious debate about ownership of cultural symbols.

Whether the ‘found’ is a material’s structure or an emblem of a culture’s self-presentation, Given: Jewellery by Warwick Freeman is ultimately shaped by the often controversial cross-cultural interaction that is inevitable in a settler society like Aotearoa New Zealand. Something might be found, but it isn’t always understood as freely given.  The eddies of culture, the ways in which various – often conflicting – identities and stories attach themselves to objects, to jewellery, is ultimately Warwick Freeman’s most important subject.

Damian Skinner, 2004


Instead of ‘Given’ I could have called this exhibition ‘Taken’.  Maybe it’s a bit of both – a bit of give and take.

Living in late 20th century Aotearoa was my given, the jewellery in this exhibition was my take.

Warwick Freeman

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