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#TBT: Free In the Light of Many Suns

Ajis Amber Cuff

There is a sense of freedom that accompanies the dark. There are dangers that lurk in its depths, true, ones that we cannot perceive clearly, but neither are they able to surveil us.

It’s another thing entirely to be free in the light.

Our lives are circumscribed, bound on all sides by laws and rules and physical obstacles and a thousand social strictures imposed by cultures that are ours, and those that are not. For those of us who walk in two worlds (or more), daily life is a minefield of mores, of irreconcilable proscriptions and conflicting taboos. The hours we spend in the company of others are too often an example of the panopticon in action and effect: Constantly observed; constantly critiqued; constantly judged; constantly sanctioned, whether overtly or by subtler means.

Those of us whose backgrounds are mixed know this reality even better than others. We inhabit a world in which we are always simultaneously both too much and never enough, where our very existence is an affront to itself, as the communities from which our bloodlines flow remain stubbornly locked in combat. We exist under multiple gazes, and while one becomes used to it in the same way that one becomes accustomed to a scar, the discomfiting feel of surveillance coupled with judgment never goes away.

Freedom is a mirage in a society where even one’s origins and identities remain always at odds with each other.

Native peoples know these conflicts well: For most of us, the oppositional dynamics between our indigenous cultures and the dominant one are constraining enough; for those of us whose very selves are constituted of the blood and bone and DNA of multiple peoples, every second is its own small scrimmage. Again and again, in matters large and small, we are forced to choose, or to have the choice made for us.

In such circumstances, it’s crucial to be able to hang onto something that grounds us, anchors us, keeps us standing strong within the confines and obligations of our various traditions . . . and yet simultaneously allows our spirits to be free.

We all define what it means to be free differently, of course, even within traditions: To some, it’s the ability to hew to those traditions completely; to others, the means to abandon them utterly; and perhaps for most of us, the way to find an accommodation between competing demands in a way that comports with our beliefs and comforts our spirits.

There is a word that the literary world of the dominant culture often uses to represent freedom: Abandon. It’s a word that doesn’t work for me; intimate knowledge of actual abandonment shows it up for the terrible burden that it truly is. While to some the profligate flouting of social mores may feel liberatory, to others from less societally privileged backgrounds, true freedom may be nothing more complex than having a place, a space, of belonging without the constant threat of judgment or ouster hanging over one’s head.

For those who must travel harder toads, the ability to be free even in the bright light of the broader world requires thoughtfulness, deliberation, care — it requires, perhaps, a sense of vision, a dream to hold dear, and the wisdom to navigate both path and place.

Oe of the first works that Wings made for me was a piece of just such talismanic power.  It was made of sterling silver and amber, a “stone” I loved for two reasons: first, because among several other pieces of jewelry I owned made with amber was a pendant in the form of the crane for which I am named; and second, because of the substance’s ability to hold that which is ancient, preserve it, and deliver to to those of us alive eons later to learn from it. At the time, he had one of his iconic five-stone cuffs made with amber in the gallery’s inventory, but it was far too large for my small wrists.

Beyond the choice of amber, I was more than happy to leave the design to him and see what he felt led to create.

I was not disappointed.

First, he chose silver in a slightly smaller gauge, one better suited to a narrow width and a scant five inches in length (the standard size for cuff bracelets is six inches). Then he chose a repeating pattern for the stampwork: an Eye of Spirit design that formed an eye within an eye, flanked at either end by flared lines that formed lodge-like symbols. He chased the pattern down the entire length of the band, producing a multifold effect that spoke of Spirit’s Eye radiating illuminating light and wisdom’s power, of the Medicine associated with the lodge (and, in some traditions, with the four-pointed star), and of the life and healing emanating from free-flowering plant spirits. On the inner band, he scattered directional symbols, blossoms, and an abundance of small hearts.

Then he turned to the “stones.”

I put the word in quotation marks because, while we tend to refer to amber as a stone, it’s technically another substance altogether: dried tree resin, solidified over time on a geologic scale, until it assumes the color and light and fire of the sun. And for this cuff, Wings chose three small suns, each perfectly round, lightly domed, and set into saw-toothed bezels; each with its own mysterious internal fractures and inclusions that catch the light and send it out into the world like fragments of fire. Three was the number that fit the band; three was also the number that fit my spirit, of the cultures and communities, the blood and bone whence I come.

It made for a work that was grounding and elevating simultaneously: one that flowered up from indigenous roots to catch and hold the light.

And it allowed me a small space of emancipation: a place to be free in the light of many suns.

~ Aji








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