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Sima Vaziry celebrates 10 years at the British Museum

One of our designer-makers here at Oxo Tower Wharf; Sima Vaziry, is celebrating a substantial watershed moment in her career so far; the advent of her ten year anniversary collaborating with the British Museum. The award-winning designer has created several commercial jewellery collections for the museum over the past ten years, and her jewellery is part of the core range at the British Museum luxury shop. Sima paid them a visit earlier this month to say hello and reflect on this great achievement, and we tagged along.

The Afghanistan collection

Sima has had a total of six exhibitions at the British museum over the last decade. These have included Sima’s opening Afghanistan collection, later followed by her Shakespeare collection and, most recently, the Egyptian collection.

In 2011, Sima’s first collection was part of the much coveted Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World exhibition. The exhibition highlighted finds from four sites in northern Afghanistan excavated between the 1930s and 1970s.

The multiple paths of the Silk Road that criss-crossed  between China and the Mediterranean, created a multi-cultural hub of creativity in the region stemming back over two thousand years.

The exhibition was opened by President Hamid Karzai where Sima and her work were introduced to the President. Reflecting on Sima’s first collection at the gallery, she explains that it was a very special occasion for her because:

“People really appreciated the stories behind the jewellery. They always asked; ‘what is this writing? What does it mean?’ I’ve had many customers from all over the world write to me. They still do! It’s very satisfying – to create things that people connect with, and still enjoy over a decade later.”

The Shakespeare collection

Another iconic exhibition that Sima was a part of was the 2012 exhibition; Shakespeare: Staging the World. Focusing on the world of Shakespeare and showing the way that he portrayed it in his plays and related it to the events and politics of contemporary London, the exhibition was produced as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.

This exhibition provides a unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city, seen through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays. It also explores the pivotal role of the playhouse as a window to the world outside London, and the playwright’s importance in shaping a new sense of national identity.

London as it was around 400 years ago is brought to life through contemporary performance and amazing objects drawn from the Museum’s collection and across Europe. Maps, prints, drawings and paintings, arms and armour, coins, medals and other intriguing objects are all examined through the lens of Shakespeare’s plays. Part of the World Shakespeare Festival which is part of London 2012 Festival.

Sima was commissioned by the British Museum to design a jewellery collection in support of this major exhibition, and the range can now be seen at the Grenville shop.

“For me, the thing that always interested me about Shakespeare was that he often set the location of his stories in other countries, when in actual fact he was clearly talking about what was going on in England at the time. So plays like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello may have been set in over-seas locations, the messages they carried were applicable much closer to home. This reminds me of many of what contemporary Iranian poets I read growing up did. They wrote  poems that could be read in a myriad of different ways. Perhaps they were  a critical analysis of the state of modern-day politics in Iran, or perhaps they were simply a poem about a broken piece of jewellery.”

The Egypt collection

In 2016 the British museum opened the Egypt: Faith after the Pharaohs exhibition, which followed the 1200 years from 30 BC, after Egypt officially became part of the Roman empire under Augustus to the end of the Fatimid period in AD 1171, when Salah al-Din (Saladin) took power.

With the arrival of the Romans, most people in Egypt continued to worship many gods. The following centuries were marked by two significant transitions, first to a majority Christian population by the 5th century, and then again to a majority Muslim population in the course of the 10th century.

For this exhibition the British museum commissioned Sima to create an exciting new collection to add to their jewellery range in support of the exhibition.

“What I found fascinating about The Egypt: Faith after the Pharoahs exhibition was that it focused on a moment in history when Egypt transitioned from following a religion that worshipped many deities, to three successive religions that focused on only one. In quick succession Egpyt converted into a judaic, christian and then finally a muslim country. With this in mind, I tried to focus my collection much more on what the three religions had in common, rather than what their differences were. For example, on the same piece of jewellery I wrote the same line of poetry but in the three separate languages of the three faiths; Hebrew, Arabic and Coptic. The idea behind this piece was to show that although these religions spoke different languages, they carried the same message.”

Celebrating ten years at the British museum.

Earlier this month Sima paid the British museum a visit to see her most popular collection; her Afghan calligraphy jewellery collection, featured as a permanent fixture of the British museum’s gift shop. Ending right where she began,  Sima’s first collection has continued to be her most popular.

The pieces from this collection are handmade from semi-precious stones and sterling silver. Made from her studio right here in Oxo Tower Wharf, Sima was inspired by traditional prayer beads; tasbah, used since ancient times.

“Looking back at the past ten years I feel truly honoured to have had the opportunity to work with the British museum so many times. I’ve had many of  my collections featured in their exhibitions, and I’ve also given speeches and taught classes here. It’s the people at the British museum however, and the memories they’ve helped create that have had the most profound effect on me looking back. It’s been a great ten years, where I’ve met some truly inspiring people and I’m very much looking forward to the next ten years!”

The British museum is now open to the public once more. You can see Sima’s first collection here in the museum’s gift shop as a permanent fixture. Don’t forget to book before you visit!

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