Q+Art: Jewelry Designer Anke Huyben Highlights the Body Underneath the Decoration

Q+Art: Jewelry Designer Anke Huyben Highlights the Body Underneath the Decoration

“The body is the object of jewellery,” Anke Huyben has said. “Without the body there is no need or place for it.” Recently relocated to her native Netherlands, the jewelry artist pushes the boundaries of craft by highlighting the human body underneath the decoration: Its anxieties, desires, and fundamental power to transform.

Q+Art is a regular column from the NOT REAL ART blog featuring contemporary artists from all over the world.

Though she considers herself a jewelry designer, Huyben works across mediums to fully explore power dynamics in the body. Printed vinyl body parts, rolled into beads, mingle with polymer clay and phallic copper pedestals. Her projects have a broad appeal—anyone with a body will relish her pink, fleshy palettes—but there’s also an intensely personal current flowing under the surface of her work. For “Pearl Necklace,” Huyben snapped photos of herself, nude, and in vulnerable positions, then rolled the images into beads. “By cutting up these images and rolling [them] into beads, only small parts of me can be seen,” she writes in her artist statement. “I’m commenting on … how people see me and approach me. Oftentimes I'm reduced to fractions of myself.”

Much of Huyben’s work comments on the power struggle between male and female bodies. While her work nods toward the predator/prey dynamic, Huyben also acknowledges an upside to objectification through the act of physical adoration. “Many feminists regard sexual objectification as reprehensible, and emphasize that it causes, to a large extent, the inequality of the sexes,” she notes. “There is also another experience to sexual objectification, one that hardly anybody speaks about: the pleasure of being worshiped.”

For Huyben, the presence (or absence) of jewelry on the body symbolizes an act of adoration, manifested through the careful consideration of personal aesthetics. Each morning, her work reminds us, we lovingly choose jewelry that showcases our favorite body part or distracts from an unsightly blemish. Worship, in this case, isn’t merely a gift we receive from someone else—it’s an act of self-love we bestow upon ourselves with every jewel and bead at our disposal.

In Today’s Q+Art Interview…

Anke Huyben discusses the word “artist” as a loaded term, surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family, and the commercialization of jewelry during the COVID pandemic.

Jewelry artist Anke Huyben pushes the boundaries of craft by highlighting the human body underneath the decoration.
‘Bodily Installation’

Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?

AH: Oh boy, I'm the worst when it comes to reading, but right now I'm reading What Color is Sacred by Michael Taussig. I try to read as much as possible for my work, but to give a non-related but related answer to this question: A friend recommended me Beauty is Embarrassing, which is a documentary about Wayne White. His energy and view on making really got me going again!

What are you trying to express with your art?

AH: I'm fascinated with the struggle that comes with my work. Even though it all comes from me and my experiences, I can still be surprised by the images. I'm trying to be as personal as I can be, but I realized that my words and the images are not necessarily on the same level. It's that tricking of the/my mind that I'm playing with. Who's the strongest and when does it work best?

Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?

AH: I think that when you start as an artist, this is the way it always goes. Or at least with me. Not that I agree with that way of working but I also don't know how to change that.

Work from ‘Lekker Indrukbaar’
Work from ‘Lekker Indrukbaar’

What person has most influenced your work?

AH: I've always surrounded myself with people who inspire me, influenced me, or gave me just something, but at Cranbrook I found new inspiration and new people. All within that jewelry field that I'm interested in, even though my work isn't all jewelry.

What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?

AH: The term “artist’ was always so loaded for me. It felt I had to be making the entire time in order to be an artist. I would never say it's a hollow phrase, but I did realise that for myself, I don't always have to be making to be an artist. In very basic thought; Rent has to be paid also. So it's giving me some rest to know, and accept this for myself.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

AH: I've answered this question last, and I still can't come up with advice that somebody once told me. I think what works best for me is that I'm surrounded with people who support me and believe in me.

Work from ‘The Human Thing’

Is a formal arts education worth the money?

AH: I would have never gotten to this point where I am now if it wasn't for the formal education. That education is more than just schools or academics, it's about that community and growing together. You learn more from your peers than from the teachers, I think.

What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?

AH: It would be nice if everything was a bit more open/fluid. Everybody's always talking about thinking outside of the box, but apparently we all need labels still.

What are you listening to in the studio right now?

AH: I have a lot of repetitive actions in my practice, and I tend to watch (crappy) TV shows then. I need a constant sound while making, but I've noticed that music can annoy me then. I want to shut off my brain then, so the crappy TV shows work the best. I think I've watched Gilmore Girls four times already (I secretly love that show).

Work from ‘The Human Thing’

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?

AH: When COVID hit I was a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art, and I had to move back to The Netherlands and find a job, which was almost impossible. I ended up with a crappy job and working six days a week. It slowed everything down for me in a practical way, but I also really struggled making. Didn't find it necessary at all.

Secretly, I think it was good for me to have to slow down. It's been a struggle, but slowly I let go of the idea of constantly having to make and be busy. It's okay to be working on completely different things sometimes.

How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?

AH: I'm not sure if it's really true because even though everything is open, I haven't seen art in real life since COVID began. In the jewelry world, I've noticed a lot of people went more commercial. That was already happening before COVID, but I think the pandemic speeded that.

What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?

AH: For an upcoming show I'm making a new body of work again! I'll be picking up what I've left with at Cranbrook. Sort of my graduation project. It will be in October in The Netherlands. And before that I will make my very first public art appearance. Very excited about both!

‘Pearl Necklace’
Anke Huyben

Anke Huyben: Website | Instagram

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.

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Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.