Traditional and timeless
The Istanbul-based artist and jeweller Souadad Kandemir talks about the events that led to her sold-out first collection of jewellery. Why jewellery? Every woman likes jewellery. But in all my stages in life I have liked things to be different - I don't buy something simple or the common thing. There is something different in my soul. I always like things to be different. I like to leave a mark on everything I do or everything I buy. Even if I buy a T-shirt I'll make it look different.
My father was a diplomat and we came from a very well-known family in Baghdad, and I visited so many countries when I was small. My first country was France, and my father took me to Versailles and the Louvre. I saw so many pieces of art - maybe that was the first time it touched my heart, in 1975. I saw many places, and my education was in culture and Arabic literature. When I was a teenager in Iraq I worked on a weekly school magazine, a political one, and I tried to combine politics with paintings in it - I won a lot of competitions through it. And then I started to write poetry, but just for myself and not to be published!
I have always liked art, but I feel like there's something external that has helped me develop it or move towards a goal. I never plan things in my life: everything that happens is from something strong pushing me. I settled in Istanbul in 1985. I started university there, at Mimar Sinan University, the first art academy in the Middle East, which opened in 1883. I studied art and then I studied classical art, then I mixed it with technology and Photoshop, and freehand work. When my father had moved to Tunisia, I had left the academy and moved to become a journalist there. But it was so hard for me, I couldn't continue with it, so my dad let me go back to Istanbul and carry on studying art.
Istanbul is an open museum of Islamic art. Everywhere gives you something special if you look carefully. What I do in my oil painting is to take the classical method and combine it with traditional Arabic art. I mix influences between Mesopotamia and Anatolia, which is something different. This has given me great happiness and feels like something special. For the jewellery collection, first I design and execute an oil painting, then from the oil painting I create the jewellery. The jewellery was just an idea initially and the first piece for me was so hard. The painting it is based on is a metre and a half, and it took such hard work for six to eight months to turn it into a piece of jewellery, between the carver and the diamond expert and me, the artist. Every design I do comes as only three pieces, in different colours and the same signature on the jewellery. The collection is called Domes and Letters.
I transfer the classic traditional art of Islam into modern art, with a modern view. To transfer the traditional art of the Middle East into jewellery is something that's very new. I don't have a background in jewellery, I have a background in design - traditional and Islamic design. I am also trying hard to make it exclusive: there are 20 pieces only, everything is private and all the pieces are sold already. I have sold two pieces to Harrods and the others to royal collections in the Middle East.
There are lots of jewellers in Istanbul, but I think this line is unique and new. The design is very important; the colour is very important. The carver is a big name in jewellery, though I don't want to reveal who he is. He's Armenian and he's very well known - Armenians have a history of being the best jewellers. We worked for six to eight months on this, all day. If we started at one or two o'clock in the afternoon, we worked until three or four o'clock in the morning.
Making jewellery is not my speciality - I'm a painter - so I like to leave the actual making to the specialists. I'd happily try out something small, but to give this art its value you need to give it to the person who can do it right. And the carver, when he's done it well, is proud of it, and he's added his own touch to it, too. ? For details of Souadad Kandemir's jewellery, visit her webiste at www.souadadkandemir.com.
* Gemma Champ