Opeyemi "Ope" Omojola was an artist-in-residence at the UrbanGlass Bead Project in the Fall of 2019 (Disclosure: The Hot Sheet is a program of the nonprofit art center UrbanGlass.) and she is looking forward to returning to the studios as borosilicate glass is figuring more and more into her work. Omojola owns Octave Jewelry, a company that is inspired by the balance between sharp geometry and soft organic form, showcasing kinetic pieces are inspired by both the infinite malleability of metal and the permanence of stone.
In an email exchange, the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet checked in with Omojola in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis to gain some perspective on her experiences, spanning from the inception of her business to her participation in the Bead Project, as well as her views on persevering during times of uncertainty. We followed up with a question about her thoughts on the Black Lives Matter protests and how society is responding to greater awareness of the need to address racial injustice beyond police reform.
I've always been a tactile person, and made things with whatever was available. In middle and high school I made my own clothes, played music, created jewelry out of materials as varied as tissue paper and tinfoil. After graduating college I worked at a job where I wasn't really working with my hands, so I started taking metalsmithing classes to blow off steam. I loved it! I loved being able to make sculpture at a scale I could carry with me. I started making things for myself, and people became interested and started asking me to make things for them, too. So Octave Jewelry grew organically from that. Once I started lapidary work, cutting and carving stone, I really developed a style and found a language I knew i could take even further, so that's the core of my business now.
I was pretty intimidated by glass before Bead Project, but I was so inspired when I went through the program, and felt so encouraged to weave it into work I was already making. It really opened up some creative pathways. So when I was invited to return to the studio as an Artist in Residence, I was excited to have a structured time when I could really experiment and push the new skills I was learning. I wanted to refine my skills in borosilicate, to come up with new integrated designs. But what ended up being the highlight of the experience was watching creativity bloom in the Bead Project group around me.
Self-doubt, fear of rejection, procrastination. Those plague me and make it harder to be good at all of the parts of my job. Self-doubt keeps people from seeking bigger or more interesting opportunities because of a mistaken idea of what they "deserve". Fear of rejection has kept me from engaging in activity that I know would help me grow as an artist and businessperson. And procrastination! The list of to-dos for an entrepreneur is endless, but it's never going to get shorter if everything is saved for later. I'm trying to hold onto those lessons as I plan for the future. There are other, subtler, structural factors that I'm not sure how to talk about - you never know how much is incidental and how much is a reflection of how society sees someone like you. I try to focus on what I can actually control.
Being creative gives artists some flexibility - we're well suited to adapting to changing times. But these are pretty unprecedented times, and I'm definitely still figuring out how to navigate it. How do you balance making beautiful things with a reality that millions of people are out of work and might not be interested in buying beyond necessity? How do you create when your creative spaces are closed? How do you re-connect with your community when you can't congregate in person? People are coming up with interesting ways to address all of these issues, and I'm excited to see the new ideas that come out of this time, and generate some new ideas myself.
I am a pragmatist, so I'm very comforted by having a plan, even if an ever-changing situation means your plan may not go perfectly. Now is also a great time to address the parts of our work that we may not like as much: logistics, planning, behind-the-scenes stuff! You may be away from your tools, but try to create space for creativity anyway! It's a great moment to look through your personal archive, revisit old sketches, think about experiments that await when we can get back to our studios. Everything is going to move slowly, but you're not alone. Whatever you thought 2020 was going to look like, this certainly wasn't it. But what can it become?"
The Black Lives Matter protests are certainly top of mind now. I mentioned focusing on what I can control, which is a defense mechanism. In the past few weeks I've been reminded of so many moments in my creative and professional life when I faced push-back about the value of my work or the quality of my ideas, and couldn't understand why; I've had conversations with white friends in creative fields who are horrified (and similarly confused) by conversations I'm totally accustomed to at this point. It's been interesting to see some institutions speak to issues of racial equity, access, and representation. However, it's going to be a long process wading through boilerplate statements to figure out who is really committed to change, and how they intend to support those commitments long-term. I hope all of the artists being featured by Glass Quarterly during this time are being asked about Black Lives Matter, as this shouldn't be considered solely relevant to Black people, or a set of issues only Black people should be working on and thinking about.
Omojola describes her pieces as providing "a modern frame for earth's ancient works of art. Every raw stone tells a story, and I cut each one by hand to suit its independent character. In sterling silver and gold, I hand-fabricate comfortable, wearable, and bold pieces that bring a sense of elegance to the everyday."
Please visit Octave Jewelry for more information.