Designer Ami Doshi Shah breaks new ground with her jewelry designs
To call Ami Doshi Shah an artist would be an understatement. She is a conjurer of spirits and ancient history. Ami procures castoffs from the Kenyan mining industry and melds them into wearable art and installations. With hammered brass, skulls intertwined with gold chain, pearls and semi-precious stones, crystals and clay dripping from leather, she weaves a semiotic story of talismans, identity, and belonging.
‘Ami’ means heavenly nectar in Sanskrit. Even if you’re not a believer, anyone can see that she is guided by something preternatural. While preparing for an exhibition at the Somerset House in London, she discovered that the room assigned to her was a former salt room, one designed for accounting and taxation of the mineral, once used as a form of currency. As destiny would have it, her collection for that year, Salt would occupy space in that very room.
She is a birther of words, fascinating objects, and babies – walking in tandem with her soulmate, whom she has known since she was five. Instead of compartmentalizing, Shah’s personal and professional lives converge and overlay like a patina on brass.
After graduating with a bachelor of arts in silver and jewelry smithing from the Birmingham School of Jewelry, she returned to Kenya and worked in advertising. It was a conscious decision driven by economics and the desire to prove herself. She then earned master’s degree in marketing.
But after 12 years in advertising, she found herself resentful, anxious, and depressed. Was she really living her life to the fullest? Why did she obtain a degree in jewelry-making but fail to turn it into a career? These questions combined with the desire to spend more time with her two children ignited the flame she needed to quit her job and launch her first collection. Six years later, Shah has already shared four collections with the world. The fifth is called Strata.
“It is an exploration of layering, embedding, and stratification in the geological world but alludes to how this also becomes a metaphor for human and social constructs,” she says.
Early in her career, Shah had also done a jewelry apprenticeship in India. To gain access to certain machinery and tools, she realized that she would have to massage the egos of men. She wore a salwar kameez to command respect. Like all women, she did what she had to do and it paid off. To date, Shah has been featured in films, London and New York Fashion Weeks, multiple international Vogue editions, BBC, Elle, The New York Times, and now SEEMA.
This third-generation Kenyan is bi-cultural. When asked what it means to be African, one word escaped her mouth: Pride. As a being that exists in many worlds, she knows what it is like to be otherized. When a young girl in the American South, she was one of two children of color in her class. Shah and her African-American girlfriend were thick as thieves. Some indigenous Africans feel that she is not Kenyan, and therefore undeserving of nationality, residencies and opportunities.
“I get it,” Shah says, admitting that the Indian community in Kenya could do more to immerse themselves in politics and society. She recognizes that the economic divide is wide. But her heart and mind are Kenyan and that is how she sees herself and her offspring – both of metal and flesh.
Shah’s humanity influences her creativity and designs. In her eyes, the human form is the most beautiful. Her inspiration is derived from a million sources. She is inspired by life, materials, geology, and the beauty of a single object. This is evident, for example, from a statement ring in Elements Contained collection and an origami neckpiece in Closure.
I asked Shah what she would create if money, time, and space were not limitations, anticipating that she would say an architectural masterpiece or larger-than-life sculpture. Instead, she envisioned a multi-disciplinary design studio and mentorship program in which Kenyan students would spend a year with designers of varying disciplines. She painted a picture so vivid that I, too, could see pupils hopping from graphic to textile to fashion and jewelry designers, a process that would ultimately lead to coveted apprenticeships.
Shah says she would embolden her younger self to “Be braver.” She says she is most free whilst in her studio. Thanks to that, the world is sprinkled with the salt of her creations.