Working life | 'It is vital for diasporic material to be visible' - Museums Association

Working life | ‘It is vital for diasporic material to be visible’

Museums Journal speaks to Emefa Cole, the new curator of jewellery (diaspora) at the V&A
Emefa Cole hopes to add to the V&A’s extensive collection through the lens of a maker
Emefa Cole hopes to add to the V&A’s extensive collection through the lens of a maker

British-Ghanaian jewellery artist Emefa Cole was recently appointed as the first curator of jewellery (diaspora) at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). She tells us how she’ll bring her unique perspective as a maker to collecting and interpreting jewellery at the museum. 

You are the first person in this role – what insight will you bring to the museum?

I hope to add to the V&A’s extensive collection primarily through the lens of a maker. It is an exciting opportunity to present and highlight talented makers from the wider diaspora. I would also like a wider discussion regarding categorisation, particularly pertaining to works of art and products from the diaspora; contextual narratives need to be given to old acquisitions, as well as more recent ones.

I hope we will eventually dilute the outdated “ethnography/anthropology” school of thought with more considered methods of categorisation. Through this, we can hopefully create new spaces that will encourage and celebrate original craftsmanship and design excellence, regardless of our cultural differences.   

A ring in the V&A collection from Emefa Cole’s Vulcan Series, which was recently featured on the BBC’s Secrets of the Museum programme
What does the role entail?

As my first curator position, it has been a great opportunity to learn from the best. I am working with a team of curators in the sculpture and decorative arts department, as well as the community of Africa and diaspora curators, which spans the museum’s curatorial teams. My role has a particular focus on makers and works from the diaspora, all of whom represent rich and diverse styles of craftsmanship. As a member of this community, I would love to assist the museum to deliver collections somewhat free of eurocentric narratives.

What makes the diaspora collections special?

The V&A jewellery collection is one of the best in the world. It is extremely important to enrich it with the works of master makers and emerging talent from the diaspora. It is vital for diasporic material to be visible – it is so important for budding artists, designers and the public to feel a connection to the collections across the museum.

What are you most excited about doing in this role?

As a maker, I have a high appreciation of the process and techniques used in jewellery making. I cannot express how wonderful it has been to hold and feel exceptionally beautiful pieces. This role is also an amazing opportunity to add exquisitely crafted pieces from the diaspora to the existing collections, and to shine the spotlight on some of the most influential makers of our time.

Inspiring the youth from the diaspora through experience and exposure is also important to me – to be able to curate and acquire pieces that represent makers who culturally align, look like them and think like them, regardless of where in the world their ancestors originated from, is exciting. This can be a gateway to spark their imagination through cultural connections and inspire them to be future creators. 

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