If You Want to be alive…read my lips!

Maral Mamaghanizedeth’s research and development project, funded by Arts Council England, 2018 – 2020. Maral uses British Sign Language to communicate, so this report has been translated from BSL into written English.

My work explores barriers I encounter everyday; being Deaf, female and a refugee. Arriving in the UK in 2016 without written English or British Sign Language, I learned two languages to enable me to study an MA at the School of Jewellery, Birmingham City University. After graduation, l was unable to return to Iran, due to the political nature of my art work, specifically my body of work, “The Politics of Voice” that directly challenged the Iranian regime’s forced wearing of hair coverings. I sought asylum in the UK and became a refugee. I now have permanent residency in the UK and am eligible to work. My work and material of choice has always been human hair, but during my first council funded commission, I took a new direction and began to experiment with ceramics.

I was funded in 2018, by Arts Council England to lead a research and development project; “If you want to be alive…read my lips!” This grant was to develop my skills and interests in ceramics, particularly in using bone china as a material to make jewellery.

Maral and Chris meet to discuss bone china as an artistic material.

During this project, I met and collaborated with Chris Wight (https://cone8.co.uk) who pushes the limits of fine bone china and is also interested in experimenting with bone china and sound. Chris mentored me to create biomorphic forms in bone china that are both atheistically arresting, but also serve a function of creating an illusion of hearing loss in the wearer. My skills as a jewellery designer and Chris’ skill at creating biomorphic shapes were well suited and we designed and moulded fine bone china ear jewellery.

The ear jewellery moulds. Image by Chris Wight – https://cone8.co.uk/

My concept was to create ear jewellery that is designed to be worn and enjoyed, however, the ear pieces are designed to inhibit sound and the wearer will experience a level of hearing loss through the ear pieces gaining an understanding of hearing loss and thus greater empathy and understanding of the Deaf community. The biomorphic shapes that I designed were also designed to be abstract forms of the female anatomy as my artistic practise is rooted in challenging forms of oppression against women.

Craved and final fired ear pieces. One example of the two shapes fired. Image by Chris Wight – https://cone8.co.uk/

Once we had moulded and low fired the two shapes that would be used for the ear pieces, I then carved the pieces with marks and patterns and feminist protest poems written in my native language of Farsi.

Wax models of the ear jewellery, ready to make the moulds.

Carving the jewellery was a big challenge as I did not have access to a studio space or extractor fan at that time. I worked out of the back door of my flat, using a bowl of water and a hairdryer to clear away the fine dust particles. Eventually I bought a small extractor fan to help me complete the work.

Carving the ear jewellery after low firing.

Once the pieces had had their final firing and I collected them all from Chris Wight’s studio. They are so beautiful and tactile; I am delighted with the results. I was delighted to work with Chris Wight, he is an incredible artist and I learned so much from working alongside him.

Ear jewellery after carving and final firing. Image by Chris Wight – https://cone8.co.uk/

I then visited Chris Bartholomew in his studio in South London, taking some samples of the jewellery with me to discuss a sound design that could replicate hearing loss and for Chris to test how much hearing would be lost from wearing the ear pieces. I sent Chris an Iranian protest song about the lack of women’s rights under the Iranian regime and he also found samples of women’s street protests in Iran and began to mix a soundscape to replicate what someone with mild to moderate hearing loss would experience. I have a profound hearing loss, so have very little access to any sound.

Chris Bartholomew holds the ear jewellery to his ears, testing how much ambient sound is reduced.

I then had a mentoring session with artist Lisa Watts to develop a ‘happening’ event to introduce the jewellery to an audience. STEAMhouse, Birmingham offered me space to lead the event on 26 January 2020 and  I was able to test the effectiveness of the jewellery and gain feedback from creatives. 

Chris Bartholomew plays a recording of an Iranian women’s protest song for the audience to listen ti through the ear jewellery at STEAMhouse January 2020.

I have been invited to lead similar event at Autograph gallery in London, once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. 

Due to lockdown and social distancing, I feel that a face-to-face event is a long way off, so I am looking for digital commissions to create a performance film of the happening, centred around these decorative, but disruptive, pieces of work. I wan to continue sharing my work and my unique identity as an artist of many different intersections. 

I want to thank Arts Council England for their support in funding this project.