Breaking gender inequalities through interactive jewellery

Tingyu Zheng, also known as Abigail, is an MA Jewellery and Related Products student from Nanjing, China.

Abigail’s work showcases the importance of gender equality, with a particular focus on female virginity in Chinese culture. She told us more about her work and the motivations behind it.

Tell us about your time at BCU

I gained an interest in contemporary jewellery once I realised it is so much more than jewellery to me and recognised that I can express my own thoughts through the craft. The course has given me plenty of chances to explore working with various materials and subjects, and I have worked with metals, embroidery and more. Having the opportunity to study on such a varied and independent level encouraged me to take risks and use mediums I wouldn’t normally use.

As one of the most famous jewellery schools in the world, I was really excited to study here, and the fact that jewellery masters such as Norman Cherry and Jivan Astfalck have studied and taught here encouraged me a lot!

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the most incredible tutors and jewellery technicians, whose professional knowledge I really benefitted from, alongside their patience and warmth! I couldn’t have completed my work without their help. Logic and research are important when it comes to studying at a master’s level, however the process of making a piece of jewellery comes from the heart and soul. My craftsmanship is my special language in which I express my thoughts to the world. This makes the technicians the interpreters; they offer students the most appropriate and detailed help and guidance. 

The School of Jewellery often organises showcases for students to show off their final projects as well as work in progresses. Alongside this, artists and practitioners are invited to critique and give feedback on the work, so we can then refine it. The graduate design exhibition is also a great way to network with industry professionals.

What is your project about?

I am creating a series of symbolized hymen membranes and invite audiences to interact with them by breaking the hymen. This aims to symbolize the rejection of toxic opinions on virginity, and specifically explores the value placed upon the ‘virgin membrane’ in Chinese culture.

Embroidery is the main element used, which I consciously chose as the craft has developed with feminism and was once seen as a domestic skill rather than art, similar to how women were seen as the second gender.

As a feminist, I’ve found jewellery is the best way for me to present my own thoughts on gender inequality and express my feelings about society as an independent woman. I always want to do something to help bring awareness to feminist issues, and that is the reason why many of my works focus on this topic.

I am also trying to bring awareness to the inequalities women are dealing with around the world, not just within Chinese culture. I believe that to stop the objectification of women, we must start with ourselves first. 

What are your career aspirations for the future?

My main aspiration for the future is to continue using my work to enable people to learn about gender inequality whilst building a career creating my own jewellery. I don’t plan to sell my work due to the sensitive topic of it; I do not want to profit from the objectification of women. However, I would love to exhibit my work in galleries to continue to showcase the interactive element of the work.

As my project is feminism related, I would like people, especially women, to realize that gender equality problems still exist. I want to raise awareness of not only these issues within their origin country, but also be able see the situation in other communities. Instead of discrimination and judgements on problems from culture we don’t understand, I think we should find the connection, the similarity between us and help each other. Respect, accept and take the first step would make huge changes.

What advice would you give to students considering the MA Jewellery and Related Products course?

I would say knowing what you want is very important. The course will help you a lot and you’ll learn new skills, however knowing what you want to get out of the course in terms of aspirations will help to shape your projects and future work. 

It can be simple things such as wanting to learn certain techniques or how to use a particular piece of equipment; but once you’ve figured it out, just go for it!

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