Haiti’s Kanaval is a true feat of endurance, with festivities building to a Mardi Gras climax over the course of an entire month. As with all carnivals, costume forms a cornerstone of the ritualistic celebrations, with each dress, headdress and mask brimming over with assiduous dedication. Yet the outfits of Kanaval bear little resemblance to the scanty feathered numbers of Rio or Salvador, drawing instead on darkness, morbidity and the plain grotesque.
Escaping Berlin’s icy grip, Chaca Jacobsen, esteemed contemporary jewellery designer and a firm favourite here at Œ, is soon setting out for Haiti to conduct research for the opening of a new branch of the CHACA universe, Mandala. While a sojourn on a Caribbean isle might appear as a welcome vacation opportunity for some, her motivation is altogether more altruistic. Prior to her departure, we took the chance to discuss the trip, the project and what she hopes to achieve through it.
For quite some time, Chaca has sought to “give something back to other creative[s]” in developing regions, where the infrastructures and mechanisms necessary for the achievement of deserved commercial and critical acclaim are lacking. But the dearth of awareness of such designers and artists does not equate to an absence of investment worthy talent; in fact, Chaca sees “a [more explosive] creativity” in developing world contexts, stemming from the resourceful use of immediately available materials.
But why Haiti? “[My close friend], Anton, has travelled there often, and he was showing me [some] Vodou art that he had brought back with him.” Indeed, some of the work held true to the aesthetic of morbidity often synonymous with Vodou visual tradition, featuring “necklaces and masks with bones and teeth.” Fascinated by the “[blending of] sculptures and art with religion”, Chaca was thus inspired to make her own trip, in the hope of carrying out first-hand research, connecting with local creatives and creating new products under CHACA Mandala.
While travelling to a developing nation to connect with local artists is a lovely idea, without diligent planning and attention paid to the future sustainability of the project, any initial positive intention or effect is undermined. Fortunately, Chaca has invested significant thought into where the project will go and how best to maximise exposure of the collaborative work produced. This is certainly in keeping with the name Mandala, a word of Sanskrit origin, indicating a diagram, grid, or pattern to be followed. At a pragmatic level, all products created through the project will be available for purchase on a to-be-created webshop, with all proceeds going directly to the relevant designers.
On a grander scale, Troels Primdahl, an art director and choreographer in her native Denmark, has commissioned Chaca to create both costumes and jewellery for a ballet that “seeks to rediscover and actuali[s]e our different cultural heritages of ecstatic rites”. The ballet is to open in Åarhus, Denmark’s second city, in 2017, the year in which the city is to be designated European Capital of Culture. Alongside a series of exhibitions in collaboration with photographer Anders Bigum to be held across Europe, namely in Berlin, Copenhagen and Barcelona, this serves as solid assurance that the habitually muffled voices of underprivileged creatives are being rightfully heard in a range of Western contexts.
Be sure to keep your eyes fixed on this space to hear more about CHACA Mandala upon her return!