Monday, November 30, 2009

Creating with Consciousness

Last night I watched a 60 Minutes program on the gold trade in the Congo. Needless to say, the program was NOT a feel-good story with a happy ending. Turns out, gold mining in the Congo is just as corrupt and evil as diamond mining is. Young boys and men work in slave conditions digging into the Earth in search of gold for less than a dollar a day in pay. The gold/gold dust is sifted out of the soil, and treated with heated MERCURY (in buckets over open fire) to bind the gold together into tiny nuggets. Gold is sold to rebels and soldiers that in turn buy guns, drugs, whatever they need, to fuel and fund civil war in the region. The gold is exported to the World trade through Dubai, and yes, this gold may end up in the jewelry you and I purchase at local jewelry stores like Walmart (the country's largest seller of gold jewelry).

As a conservation biologist, this appalling practice and trade is unacceptable. The Earth and surrounding ecosystems are ravaged, and the cost to human life is incalculable. As a jewelry designer, I find myself in an evolution of thought that gives me great pause. Can jewelry be designed and created without contributing to the atrocities of strip-mining and human suffering abroad?

I try to create jewelry with a purpose--reclaimed metals, found objects, non-precious metals, etc. but I still use gemstones and beads mined from the Earth. Is this truly creating with consciousness? Is it enough? Long ago I made the decision to NEVER use, purchase or promote the use of diamonds in jewelry. As far as I am concerned, the diamond industry is just as fraudulent and corrupt as organized crime. The term "blood diamond" doesn't begin to describe the level of horror associated with diamond mining. But what about gems from Brazil? Brazil is famous for amethyst and other quartz mineral gemstones. Mines are everywhere, and mining companies have alarmingly similar practices around the world. Rip open the Earth, take what you want, pay little or nothing for it and move on, leaving behind a wake of destruction.

I am in a true moral quandry here, and am not sure what direction my designs will take, or if I should even continue to persue jewelry design at all. I try to raise funds for wildlife conservation through the sales of my work, but that seems pretty hypocritical if componants of my work are created through destroying the very systems I strive to protect. How can I look at gold wire or sheet without seeing the faces of the men who slave to get it out of the ground? How can I set a gemstone without seeing the scarred Earth from which it came?

Jewelry design and personal adornment are ancient--all cultures on the planet have decorated their bodies with items made from gifts from the Earth. The history of jewelry fascinates me and has inspired me for as long as I can remember. The jewelry INDUSTRY of today is a far cry from singular aritsans creating works of personal art. Today's market is a voracious beast churning out tons of glittery, meaningless JUNK. Junk that funds wars, fuels famines, and fosters desperation in the countries selling off their natural resources with no sense of the future consequences.

As I said earlier, there is no happy ending here. I am going to take a long, hard look at myself and my purpose in creating jewelry. My conscious demands it, and I believe I owe it to myself and to the countless, nameless souls who give their lives so wealthy countries can drape their citizens in glitter.

1 comment:

HedgeWitch said...

This post really resonated with me. I also have the same thoughts about just where the materials i use are sourced. I have never used coral in my pieces. With a fish crazy husband i know all to well how damaging it can be. Not so long ago i found out that the hazardous waste used in mining was just flushed away into the amazon (courtesy of cichlid mad hubby again) . I sit here looking at my semi precious gemstone stash wondering just how i can marry beautiful stones i want to use with a clean conscience. I've seen only one jewellery designer in the couple of years i've been interested in the subject that says she has sourced her gems directly from a sustainable ethical wholesaler. Unfortunately she is lost in the midsts of cyberspace now. I should have contacted her about her sources when i had the chance.