Evans Mbugua is a Kenyan visual artist and designer living in Paris, France who uses art to portray his life, the life of his friends and strangers. His art work is a combination of glass and perspex to beautify his subjects by shine and reflections, while underlining human frailty. The pictograms in his work represent our urban environment which shapes, rhythms our life and which, in turn, becomes his playground.
In 2018, Maison Chaumet, a high jewellery house and Mbugua collaborated to take an artistic trip around Africa through jewellery. This led to the birth of Trésors d’Afrique which was the third destination by the house, after Russia’s Promenades Impériales followed by Japan’s Song of Spring.
Mbugua elaborates on the project that featured designs of ornaments worn by Dinka people of South Sudan, the Nyangatom of Ethiopia, to the Maasai, Rwandan agaseke baskets and other cultures. Women’s headdresses and bridal wear of different African cultures influenced Cascades Royales. Chaumet used various stones: black onyx, rubies, marquise-cut diamonds and Muzo emeralds.
Maison Chaumet has created jewellery showcasing different continents in the world except Africa. What was the name for the collections depicting Africa?
The theme was part of a series of a project of three spheres called “Les Mondes de Chaumet” and for Africa, the name Trésors d’Afrique was selected by the creative and marketing teams of Maison Chaumet. The project ideas were created within the creative department, we worked together on the collection. My mission was to share with the design team: my universe, inspiration of my artistic expression and my thought process as I create my art pieces.
The process must have required in depth research of different African cultures to ensure that they align with the goals of Maison Chaumet. How long did it take to create the pieces with Chaumet in 2018 for the Africa collection?
The whole process from inception to the unveiling of the collection took at least 36 months. This involved interacting with several people and with different departments within and outside Maison Chaumet. But I was mainly involved with the initial creative part and would visit thereafter from time to time to check on the progress of the different pieces.
How do you describe your work and what was the commonality between Maison Chaumet and your work?
My work involves giving special, glowing attention to each human being and paying tribute to individuals I meet through portraiture. I believe that we are all equally ‘’Very Important People. I paint by hand using dots of oil paint on perspex which shines and glitters to bring out the point. This special attention to detail, perfection, shine and handcraft are some of the commonalities between Maison Chaumet and my work. We have the human being at the center of our work.
Could you describe a few of the pieces and the cultures you identified for those pieces?
I particularly love the giraffe with its head in the clouds. It was inspired by a personal story. I had a surprise encounter with a giraffe family while strolling in a park (Naivasha, Kenya) in 2005. This memory has always stuck in my head as I literally had the impression that from where I stood, the beautiful, gracious giraffe had its head in the clouds!
The Ronde de Pierres resembles a Maasai necklace while the Cascades Royales resembles the well known African comb. Would these descriptions be correct?
I was interested in shapes and colours from different parts of the continent. I was also very keen on focusing on contemporary art which is also turned towards the rest of the world. Some of the pieces borrowed from cultures which are dear to my creative process (specifically the Maasai people from East Africa) but most of the pieces intentionally leave room for interpretation. It was interesting and gratifying to see people from different parts of the world, appreciating and connecting with the pieces! The collection finally went beyond the sub-Saharan borders to relate with other cultures, especially from Asia. We had 75 pieces from the collection.
How did you mix your artwork with this Chaumet collection?
Apart from playing the artistic direction role, I designed the Espiègleries brooches using six paintings I made from imaginary stories evoking flora and fauna. These paintings were then used to create the unique brooch pieces. Later on several of my art pieces and print designs were used to accompany the collection in exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou and elsewhere around the world.
How were you selected?
In fact I wasn’t selected. It was a purely happy coincidence. From its rich over 200 years of history, Maison Chaumet had never artistically sourced for inspiration directly from sub-Saharan Africa. An encounter with my work showing in a contemporary art gallery in rural France led them to this idea. I was only an email away…
What influence has this collaboration had on you? Has it opened
This collaboration has given me more confidence to explore further my work. It was definitely great to meet and work with such a competent, fun team and in fantastic creative conditions. This was a learning experience for me too. The exposure of my work to a much wider audience has been great!
What was the starting cost of the pieces? And, what was the most expensive piece?
The starting cost was from a few hundred thousand euros to well over a million euros per piece. Definitely Maison Chaumet is better suited to answer that as I was purely involved with the creative process throughout.
There have been buyers of the pieces. From which countries are there buyers from?
The buyers were from all over the world but most of the collectors were from Asia. They were very fascinated by the rich culture from Africa.