For the next few months my spare time will be devoted to writing "Beading Techniques in the Peranakan World," a paper that will appear in an exhibition catalog to be published in 2016 by the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore, in honor of an exhibition curated by my colleague Hweifen Cheah, author of Phoenix Rising: Narratives in Nyonya Beadwork from the Straits Settlements and a number of other publications on Peranakan (Straits Chinese) beadwork, which arose in the British Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, starting in the mid-19th century.
I'm excited by this project, in which I'll be analyzing a number of previously undocumented South East Asian bead netting techniques like the one shown above. That said, I'm also somewhat intimidated, because the techniques include some serious brain-teasers, requiring me to retrace steps taken by the hands and minds of another era.
The point of such a study? First, to give credit where credit is due, acknowledging the technical innovations of anonymous beadworkers - their creativity, resourcefulness, and courage to venture beyond the norm. Second, to expand the global repertoire of documented bead netting techniques. Third, to track possible links between cultures or between groups within a single culture. Fourth, to determine to what extent the material and textual records coincide.
Fifth, from a personal point of view, to incorporate South East Asian beading approaches into my own jewelry designs, bringing these brain-teasers right into the studio. It's a question of how to translate them in a fresh, contemporary, wearable way. In the end, of course, it's not about technique - it's about the aesthetic effects that technique makes possible. In the best pieces, you don't see the technique. You see the piece.
More on these topics in the months to come!