Reia Li

Below is the written explanation of the artist’s Sustained Investigation. To view the full images and details of each piece, click/tap on the thumbnail.

As a child, my grandmother’s jewelry box full of mysterious, shiny adornments fascinated me. Why do people wear jewelry? What does it mean to them and what do they use it to express about themselves? 

My sustained investigation uses portraiture to explore the relationship that people form with their jewelry. First, I examined jewelry with an intensely personal meaning, symbolic only to the wearer, such as a necklace with an infant’s name. These pieces, images 3, 7, 8, and 9, focus on the details of the subject’s face, which reflects their intimacy of their jewelry. Next, I scrutinized jewelry with a larger external meaning tied to an aspect of culture or religion, as seen in images 1, 5, and 6. Because their jewelry reflects their engagement with a broader culture, these figures are shown more fully, while interacting with their abstract backgrounds. Finally, I was fascinated by those who used jewelry to evoke status or identity, as a rapper does with his chain. Images 2 and 4 reflect this multiplicity of identity enabled by jewelry, while Image 10 showcases a girl confounded by the materialistic nature of fine jewels.