Brian Kivuti is a Nairobi-based jewelry designed, artist and photographer. He studies jewelry-making at the University of Edinburgh.
Glitter Trotter: Hi Brian! I am really happy, we finally have a chance to talk about you, your work, your professional philosophy! So, where and when does your story start?
Brian Kivuti: Well, jewelry was never a premeditated thing for me growing up. It wasn’t like, “Ah! I want to be a jeweler.” I just knew I was artistic, and I knew that I had a particular skill set, which hovered around numerous things – painting, jewelry, drawing, i.e., all things arts. But when I did my Foundation course at the University College for the Creative Arts, I still did not know what I wanted to do. In fact, I was about to go into illustration.
GT: That would be a major loss for all jewelry lovers like me. Just saying.
BK: Hahaha! But that’s where I ended up seeing the Jewelry Department. We had our life drawing classes weekly, that’s where you draw models and such. And the studio was on the other side of the campus. On my way there, I’d walk in through the corridors and explore different routes. One day I realized that I started subconsciously using the same route most of the time – the one that passed by the Jewelry Department. I would stop there and look at the wall, where they posted pictures of previous students’ work. And at some point, I looked at those works and I was like, these are students’ works – maybe I can do something like this as well.
GT: The hand of Destiny as they say.
BK: The corridor of Destiny, to be precise. So, I went to the Department Head (his name was also Brian) and said, “You’ve seen enough student portfolios to tell if someone is going to be a good jeweler. Could you look at my work and tell me if I would be any good at it?” He looked at my portfolio and said, “Yeah I think you would be a good jeweler.” So, I took his word for it; I was like “Okay, I guess that is what I will do.”
GT: And that's how the story began... Tell me, what do you like about being a jeweler?
BK: Aside from making awesome jewelry? I like how jewelry-making is an in-between. It’s very practical and technically involved in making. But there is also a bit of drawing, a bit of sculpting, a bit of fashion; it touches on all these different aspects. And if I ever want to pivot my career into any of those, jewelry is a great space to pivot from. So, going into jewelry for me meant that I could still hold on to all these other facets of art if I wanted to. And...
BK: It also seemed financially viable because at that time, there were not too many jewelry makers in Kenya. I believed I found my sweet spot. So, I went to the University of Edinburgh, and studied jewelry making for my Bachelor’s.
GT: Is that when your philosophy about your work started changing?
BK: No, that’s more of a recent thing. You see, when I started my business I had all these ambitious ideas about becoming the biggest jeweler in Africa. The 23-year-old Brian was going like “I shall be great.” Looking back at that Brian, I realized that I might have been using art to deal with my insecurities, to feel valued. I was seeking validation, it would come but it was neither sufficient nor lasting. That’s how I learned that I had to find security in myself, in a different way and not through my art.
GT: And how did this revelation affected your work? Or did it not?
BK: It did. When I stopped seeking security in art, I found myself in a void. I was asking myself, “What is my art for?“ and “What am I making it for?” I had to rediscover myself, rediscover what it is I am doing and why I am doing it. I had to express myself, my journey, and what it is I am feeling on the inside.
GT: Is the discovery still on-going?
BK: I feel it shifting now. I was just having a conversation with an artist friend. He is one of those friends who opens his mouth and wisdom just pours out, very eloquent and clever, and very aware. So, I was talking to him about this process of transition, about the uncertainty of it and my willingness to make, and discover, and explore, and move forward. That even though I am a bit confused right now, I am aware that it’s important for me to cultivate presence, awareness, and stillness within myself. So, it’s about getting to know myself and my craft again, renewing that relationship.
GT: And what can you tell me about this new Brian?
BK: One of the things I have liked about myself was the desire to work multidisciplinary, between photography, painting, jewelry... But my friend reminded me is that the objects I make are an illusion; and the thing that really matters is the story behind the object. And as an artist, that is what I am making. That is what I am weaving. That is what I am working with. The object, whether it be jewelry or painting, is just an expression of the story. That’s what people related to, that’s what they buy. And that’s where the power of shaping the culture or creating a new one comes from.
GT: Do you have a favorite collection, or a favorite piece among those you’ve done? And “no” is a perfectly good answer.
BK: Well, I don’t and I do. So, I have the conceptual favorite ones; those are the ones I am proud of; and then there is this one ring that unintentionally became one of my favorites, not because I especially love it but because I wear it all the time. I made it in collaboration with the client, and I really didn’t like it at first. But then it turned out that the client gave me the wrong size, and this ring stayed with me. I decided to wear it one day, and have been wearing it every day ever since.
GT: Does this ring have a particular meaning?
BK: Not really, just an aesthetic exploration. The ones with the meaning are my Sea Forms. I really like the liquid motion of them. The way they are angular, and organic, and smooth. I find, the sea for me represents the fluid motion of the spirit, it represents the ways things change and morph. It’s a metamorphosis of some kind. I often find that my internal world is a constant storm, a fluid motion, and I am not able to keep up with it. It is like go with the flow and see what happens. So, in a way when I make these beautiful forms, I also experience these beautiful emotions, which then make their way into beautiful object. Does it make sense?
GT: It does. I was just thinking about my own love for ocean. There is this understated power and freedom...
BK: And the vastness, and the deep endlessness. It is so big, and beyond anything you could ever control or contain. But you also know that you don’t need to.
GT: And this is a beautiful ending to our beautiful conversation. Thank you, Brian.
BK: Any time.