Next week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will open “Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room,” a unique exhibition that celebrates the rich and diverse traditions of Seneca Village, a predominantly Black settlement that flourished just a few hundred yards from the museum’s current site until it was destroyed by the city of New York in 1857—to make space for Central Park.
Styled with objects, furnishing, and artworks from the museum’s collection—from Bamileke beadwork and 19th-century American ceramics to special contemporary acquisitions—both the contents and design of the period room acknowledge the injustice of Seneca Village’s fate while asking a compelling question: What if this community had had the opportunity to thrive?
One response comes in the form of the museum’s new jewelry design collaboration that involved veteran New York designers Ron Anderson and David Rees of Ten Thousand Things.
Imagined as elegant accessories for a modern-day resident of Seneca Village, the jewelry was born from an exploration of the Met’s collection through the lens of Afrofuturism—that is, the creative form that centers Black imagination and self-determination.
“The Met contacted us in the beginning of this year with the invitation to collaborate, and we jumped at the opportunity,” says Rees. “The stated imperative was to collab with artisan businesses in NYC, as real evidence that such businesses are thriving in the NYC of today and are connected to the NYC of Seneca Village. We visited the Met, specifically the ancient African and Egyptian rooms, to re-familiarize ourselves with the aesthetic vocabulary, and Zoom-met with the curators for more direction. They introduced us to the video work of the noted jazz musician and ‘father’ of Afrofuturism, Sun Ra, and it all fell into place.”
The materials used in the jewelry collection were informed by what Rees and Anderson saw in the Sun Ra films and from objects in the Met’s collection. “We tried to make elegant pieces that a woman living in Seneca Village today would wear—that was the motivation,” says Rees. “The ankh, scarab, and Ouija eye charms are taken from the hieroglyphics in the ancient Egyptian room. We used crystal because Sun Ra carries a crystal orb in a lot of his visual presentations.”
The opportunity to collaborate with the Met presented a come-full-circle moment for the design team, who started making jewelry over 30 years ago as fashion pros–turned–self-taught jewelers. Back then, “one of the first things we did was roam the halls at the Met, looking at ancient artifacts and jewelry for inspiration and understanding—I think most jewelers do that!” says Rees. “So it is mind-blowing to be asked to create a collection for the Met to celebrate this particular exhibition, and a beautiful opportunity to create objects that resonate with the [Met’s] audience.”
The Ten Thousand Things x Met collection is also available in-store, alongside other collaboration products commissioned in honor of the groundbreaking exhibition.
Top: Small lapis crescent hoops earrings in sterling silver, $350; Ten Thousand Things x Met
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