On the 24 July 2019, the WFHI team collaborated with Shelanu (meaning ‘belonging to us’) in a workshop event.

Shelanu is a women’s craft collective in Birmingham, working with refugee and migrant women to develop sustainable craft social enterprise. The workshop modelled what WFHI see as being important to research in a decolonised mode – the experience of being taught rather than providing answers, and engaging in co-creation through practical activity. WFHI participants learned from the collective, and worked together creatively and practically.

Following from this visit, Craft Space kindly provided us with a blog about the day, from the perspective of Shelanu members. 

This summer Shelanu members worked with a team from the University of Birmingham, as part of their ‘Women, Faith and Humanitarian Interventions’ project (insert hyperlink). The project seeks to highlight the role that faith and gender play in times of humanitarian crisis. As part of their research the group were invited to a workshop led by Shelanu members to create both a collaborative artwork and to design and create their own piece of jewellery, whether that be a necklace, bracelet or brooch. Using techniques including transfer printing and marbling, the group from the University used polymer clay to create jewellery which reflected their culture, heritage and identity.

To begin the day members of Shelanu introduced the group to transfer printing, a technique of applying images to materials including enamel which the group used to create their collaborative artwork. Each participant was given an enamel tile to transfer a section of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Insert image) as well as multiple religious symbols, to signify equality of all religions. With support from Shelanu, the group created their own tile reflecting their own personality through layout, pattern and design. The group designed collaboratively – making sure that each symbol was used at least once - with some making sure that each symbol was used on their section.

Whilst waiting for these to dry, everyone was encouraged to think about and design their own piece of jewellery reflecting their own culture, background and identity. With examples and presentations from members of Shelanu about their own personal jewellery collections, as well as demonstrations on marbling and shaping polymer clay, designs came to light incorporating flowers, symbols and nationalities. Once designs were drawn and decided on, each person incorporated these into their own jewellery piece including brooches, bracelets, earrings and necklaces.

Using methods such as marbling, transfer printing and layering, each individual chose at least one colour to make their jewellery piece. After the group showed members of Shelanu their various design ideas, they collectively spoke about different ways each design could be approached. Shelanu answered any technical questions that the group had about technique, composition and colour.

With the group quiet in concentration some even managed to create a jewellery collection – creating pieces which worked well cohesively, whether that be through colour, form or technique. Once the polymer clay pieces were completed the group were introduced to fixings, and with the patient aid of members of Shelanu, the pieces of polymer clay transformed into wearable pieces of jewellery which were as individual as the makers behind them.

Once the jewellery was completed, the group varnished their tiles; to seal the message on the top of the enamel. Once varnished and dried the group put the tiles together; although it worked as one cohesive piece each tile was clearly made by a different person. The group discussed how each tile reflected a personality trait of the designer. The University of Birmingham group were invited to take their pieces of jewellery and enamel tiles home, some leaving proudly wearing the items they’d made, and saying, ‘It’s been really fun; I wouldn’t normally do this.’

This collaboration between Shelanu and the University of Birmingham allowed for both groups to learn new skills, engage in different conversations and work together to create pieces which were personal to each individual. The session also highlighted how individuals from different backgrounds, upbringings and religions can collaborate to reach a common goal.