When hundreds of fine seed beads are expertly woven together into a seamless piece of jewelry, it feels like python skin to the touch. It glides smoothly over the skin, and it has a surprisingly luxurious weight to it. Besides being beautiful, artfully crafted beadwork feels exquisite. Since meeting Mika in the middle of the year, I've had the pleasure of handling all kinds of custom adornments, all with cultural relevance or spiritual significance.
I was invited into the artist's enclave in MidCity Los Angeles where Mika crafts each piece for Ta Meu Bem, and thus began a gradual education on the art of beading and the ways that a true artist might forge jewelry that speaks to their values and truths. Over rooftop hangouts and gem show shopping excursions, I've picked up so many delightful insights into this art. Beads have been used for currency, ceremonial purposes, and jewelry for at least 45,000 years. Some cultures use beads to delineate between professions, as an adornment to attract a suitor or as a means of spiritual protection.
Mika's work gives honor to this deep tradition of meaningful ornamentation. Pairing fine bead work with hand-worked metals, rare vintage pieces, and crystals and stones that bring their own element of energy and symbolism, the jewelry manages to be contemporary and fresh while stilling rooting the wearer to history.
I own a few pieces myself, including my two favorite amulets, both of which are layered with meaning. One of these features a path of rose quartz leading to a charm in the form of a human heart. With rose quartz being a centuries-old symbol of universal love, the placement of it next to a heart is both clever and meaningful, and the choice to use an anatomically correct heart instead of the geometric symbol for a heart that most would think of, brings in the element of humanity; It is the pairing of spirit and flesh in a reminder to lead in love and embrace healing. The second amulet pairs sodalite, (so called the poet's stone because it is a talisman for self-expression and communication) with opalite (believed to give one the strength to express deeper feelings) and a scarab, an ancient symbol for divine manifestation, development, and growth; This necklace is a recipe for being vulnerable, for digging deep and speaking your truth.
"The jewelry becomes a prescription for what ails me,
a declaration of strength, and it makes me feel
powerful when I wear it."
Photographing these pieces can come with challenges, particularly when the models and the styling are as much a part of the message as the jewelry is. The lighting has to articulate the mood, while flattering the model, and keeping the jewelry visible and bright, without glare. Beading and amulets have to be carefully laid. We shoot a mixture of product highlights featuring individual pieces of jewelry, merchandise shots showing everything as a collection, styled images of models wearing the jewelry, and then a couple of images of the models that get highly retouched and shot in an editorial style, that are used on the website homepage, business cards and promotion materials.
Over the course of the few weeks between sessions, Mika begins to form a vision for her next campaign. Typically the collection of images and inspiration pieces include ancient art, elements found in nature, and beading from all over the world. I add to this dialogue with bits of inspiration from the pages of Vogue or from other photographers that I love; We collaborate on locations and styling and models, craft custom adornments, and shoot together every few weeks. It is a process that I enjoy immensely.
Recently, Mika invited me along with her to a gem show. She briefed me on the process of shopping for unique pieces; I got a behind-the-scenes look at her process, watching her take a raw stone and describe what she will pair it with, how it will be crafted into a finished piece.
Beyond designing incredible jewelry and conceptualizing amazing editorial shoots for her collections, she also helps me with styling some of my sessions, and the pieces become the perfect accessory to many of my fine art and beauty sessions.
I recently asked Mika what Ta Meu Bem means, and she said, "It's a Brazillian thing, is the best way to describe it. I named my creative space with this saying because Brazillians are the ones who pushed me to go deeper into my artistic ability. Ta Meu Bem is an expression of my artistic self. I have a profound love and respect for indigenous and tribal art and craft. As my feet carried me across the world and back, seeing the beadwork from Columbia and South Africa on my travels was the linchpin in pushing me to hone the innate ability in me. My work represents ancient roots energy. divine interpretation and devotion to mother nature."