Read Tamagit’s comprehensive personal interview of the artist Karim Oukid.
Where were you born? Can you describe the environment and some of the experiences you lived during your childhood?
I was born in Ath Yani, a village in the Kabylia (Algeria). Here jewelry has been omnipresent since centuries. It is considered to be the cradle of jewelry-goldsmith in North Africa. So, my relation to jewelry is umbilical. I grew up in a village with a society that functions around jewelry. Since I was I child I participated in all jewelry-related activities, rituals and celebrations. Jewelry is the symbol of my village, of its history, economy, identity, rituals and traditions.
What language were you brought up in? Describe your familiar background.
The first words I heard and spoke were surely in Kabyle, my mother tongue. My mom only spoke this language and a bit of French. Kabyle was the most common language in my family next to French and it stayed like this till now.
Most of my family members were employed in the education sector at various levels. My aunt’s husband is jeweler and as a child I spent my holidays with him. I played in his workshop among antique and modern jewels. At the age of 10, after my father got retired, he founded a jewelry atelier, so that was a big event for all of us and jewelry got introduced to me that way.
Every generation in my village has a very deep and warm approach to jewelry. The fact that I had seen, touched and dreamt of antique and beautiful jewels at such early age arose in me such a desire that I ended up dedicating myself to jewelry and to (jewelry) education, which is also part of my family’s tradition. I worked for many years with my father and this defined my perspectives and shaped my own projects. It certainly conditioned my path.
How is Kabylian jewelry related to women, to female gender?
Women in Kabylia are considered the “guardians of the sacred fire”. We owe women every single thing we keep from the past, from our traditions and from our language. They were the ones who always knew how to maintain, keep, protect and transmit all knowledge related to our culture and identity. The same with jewelry. Without all those women, jewelry would not have resisted time and foreign influences.
In Kabyle there is a say: “Men have the power whereas women have the key to that power.”
So, in Berber culture, women are creators, wearers and facilitators of culture through jewelry?
Yes, of course. There is no doubt about it. To think otherwise would be a sacrilege. And not only through jewelry.
Your jewels can be worn for any occasion or only for certain moments?
I have a broad range of designs. Some of my jewels can be worn in a daily basis and for any occasion… but this does not depend on me! Every person has to decide when and why to wear them. It is very important to highlight its sensitivity and the special relation between the jewel and its wearer.
Your connection with your mom through jewelry…
I shall always remember the jewels my mom wore. I remember every single detail of them. Even their polishing throughout the time and the sound they made when she moved.
Jewelry is not only visual or ornamental. It is sensitive. Jewelry is sound. Jewelry is history and collective memory at the same time. Do you agree with it?
Jewelry is identity. It is an indicator of societies’ evolution through its creativity and imagination.
Jewelry, as something that is shown, is external. However, we believe it can be very intimate. Do you agree with us?
Jewels express much of the person wearing it, carrying it, feeling it in the ear, around the finger or the neck… it generates so many sensations in the exact context (moment and time).
Karim, you inspired our Project: Tamagit. What does the concept “Tamagit” mean to you?
Tamagit o thamaghith pronounced in thamazight language means identity. It is very important to have, define and know one’s identity. That is the human being’s essence, where its history is concentrated.
Some time ago you told us you wanted to be a “bead” in a Berber necklace. You want to be part of the tradition, but you want to be a different kind of bead. How do you innovate tradition then?
My jewelry relates to the past, but it is adapted to the present time and it envisions the future.
Why did you move to Barcelona? How were your beginnings?
Many circumstances made me move to Barcelona. I still haven’t deeply evaluated my decision. I will do so in the future. One thinks one can do much more here….. but one constantly has dilemmas. However, the most important thing is to put oneself in the present time.
What do you carry with you from Kabylia? And what did you have to leave behind?
Kabylia is omnipresent in my thoughts and acts! If you are born Kabylian you will always be militant. I shall always carry with me the most sublime and revel aspects of my culture.
What I had to leave behind is what I explained before: the role of women preserving and promoting the values of our culture. I would love to be near them to better understand their function, their force, their vision. There is so much energy and perseverance involved in order to keep it! How it is originated and how it is lived…
Has displacement influenced your creation?
During the years before moving to Barcelona I had already started to create new designs that are a bit different from the traditional ones. After I got to Barcelona, as migrant, I felt new emotions such as longing or nostalgia. I had the need to make jewels to express those feelings and thoughts.
What does Barcelona mean to you?
Barcelona is Mediterranean essence. There are many mixed cultures. On a creative level it opened many possibilities. Through master jewelers -especially one of them- I understood the value of Kabylian Berber jewelry. I will feel eternal gratitude towards him.
What materials do you use and where do you obtain it? Are there certain materials you would never use? Why?
I use materials I know. Materials I know exactly how their transformations and reactions are related to the characteristics of Berber jewelry from Kabylia. For example, silver, baked enamels and red choral from the Mediterranean Sea. Then, the creative impulse and the drive for innovation leads me to use, experiment and incorporate other materials when I am fully convinced of them in relation to my objectives.
Your design is based in geometry and order.
Order and clarity need to be in the initial concept. Order is a must during the jewelry making process which consists of several technical stages.
What do you feel when you have sold a piece of jewelry? What does the wearer add to the jewel?
I really enjoy the creative process. I can almost say that I play with the piece. We both are as important. I demand. The jewel demands…. And we play like this! During the time the jewel belongs to me, it has something of me. And then, when I finish it… we both are in peace and we wish each other good continuity.
The fact that the piece gets sold or offered means that your own story continues. And it is a very happy moment. One does never know where it will end up!
What other artistic expressions do you enjoy?
Painting, literature, sculpture and all other creative expressions.
Why do you like our Tamagit project?
I trust the persons behind it and their most important values: identity and ethics.
Work, research, improve and change.