ela mariska
ugly objects ugly
natalya paul

natalya paul

Paul, a traditional metalsmith and jeweler working under the name Manus Magnus, gave two “ugly” items for Natalya to “beautify” from his studio next to the red light district. One object was of his own creation, which he deemed a failure. The second was a wooden souvenir, a gift from his niece. She brought this back as a gift while visiting her husband’s family in Suriname.



Video: about the vase

Video: about the wooden object


natalya dana natalya dana
natalya dana natalya dana natalya dana

We (Dana and Natalya) are late with our posting… We have lived with these objects for four and a half months… The wooden souvenir from Suriname is still a mystery.  A lot to think about: who made it, why was this purchased, how was it made, what are the influences for its making, why would anyone think that this is appealing, what parts of us do souvenirs appeal to....? The handmade metal object is a typical metal forming exercise in which the body and the stand have not been resolved as admitted to by Paul, the owner and maker. 

Ironically, Dana and I are getting ready to change apartments in a month and I am set on getting rid of anything that is not practical or pleasurable in our lives before we move.  The two objects from the project are fortunately stored in the only safe space in the apartment (the studio) where a little bit of the unpractical and silly is allowed to remain.   

Currently the objects sit on the mantle above the fireplace.  We are still undecided which object we want to focus on but are intrigued by the relationship between the wooden figures and the striped painting.  Staring at the stripes everyday (our relaxing zone in the apartment is right in front of the mantle) brought out the power of decoration and repetition.  So far, we are just intrigued by how accepting we have become of the combination of both the painting and the wooden warriors.   Not daring to do anything to the objects themselves just yet, we decided to check out the beautification power of stripes on the tail of our wonderful rat, Afonya, whose tail is often implicated as ugly.  Food colorants were used.  So far, we went for the natural styling.


natalyaNatalya contacted Paul with the following letter:

“…about the objects…I look at them every day, several times. For the longest time I did not know what to do with the objects. The metal form, and your objection to it, was easy to comprehend but I just could not find a connection with it. So, I turned to the wooden object that was the present your niece brought back from Suriname.

I went back to our conversations and realized that the wooden object ended up in the ‘ugly’ category primarily because it had an unfulfilled existence. It was a gift and thus you were unable to throw it away. You kept it in the drawer… admitting that the object seemed to be void of much meaning and on top of it rather ugly and poorly made. I realized that what interested me was this lack of fulfillment on the part of the ugly thing more than its visual ugliness, per se. How does one make an object special and imbued with meaning? Beautiful things are often treasured for themselves, though boring at times, but ugly ones end up in that position as well. Why is this ugly thing not in the privileged position?

I actually do find the object intensely ugly, especially after finding an image of a larger version of it on the internet being given as a gift at “Country-Led Initiative on Financing for Sustainable Forest Management in support of the UN Forum on Forests,” but what is more interesting to me is the void that it seems to represent in the particulars of your story. There are so many objects in our lives that are rather ugly and badly put together that we treasure and love nonetheless, mostly because there are stories and memories attached to them.

"Co-Chairs Stephanie Caswell (US) and Hans Hoogeveen (the Netherlands)
received a
token of appreciation from Suriname; Kim van Seeters (the Netherlands)
received the gift on behalf of Co-Chair Hoogevee"

What is evident for this object is that it is not a repository of stories that play an active part in your life and thus, I am having hard time finding inspiration for my making as well. In a way, by participating in this project, a new story is being created for the thing, for sure, but something is still lacking… Even if I change it ONLY according to my own sensibilities aesthetically and give back to you there still might be a void because the act of my remaking will not recreate the connection a gift is supposed to create between the people involved. However, I have a plan…

When I got back from Amsterdam in the winter, I started reading “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde. The book was written in the 70s and discusses gift exchange in its multitudes of incarnations, be it in traditional cultures of tribal peoples based on gift economy or looking at creativity as a gift. The power of a gift is alive only when it circulates and passes from one person to another, this being a simplified summary of the main thesis in the book. Gifts are given away without expectation of anything in return as a way to share our bounty (be it creativity or wealth) with others as means for health in the community at large. Contemporary life often stifles this process and creates dead objects that lie around unfulfilled. By living its life in a drawer, the power of the wooden warrior gift has fallen asleep. To be active again, it needs to be transformed and to be passed along.

So, I wanted to ask you if you would perhaps be interested in participating in reinvigorating the power of the gift with me. Since you are also a jeweler and are familiar with the object, I thought that we could both create objects/jewelry from this piece and share it with someone else. If you are not interested or cannot take part in it, no problem because I will proceed on my own. …”

this is the website where a very similar object was found
ReadyTex Art Gallery, Paramaribo, Suriname
the object in the images was purchased at this gallery; the object is titled Indian (matte finish) and was given as a present during the 'Paramaribo Dialogue' organized in the framework of the UN Forum on Forests last year in Suriname.


bas bas




natalya dana natalya dana
natalya dana
natalya dana
natalya dana
natalya dana natalya dana

40 Brooches
sterling silver, stainless steel, wood, paint

Dana and Natalya thought that the most intriguing part about the ugly object was its unfulfilled identity as a gift. Gifts are meant to be part of peoples’ lives, connecting and establishing bonds. Paul’s niece gave the Suriname wooden warriors to Paul as a gift but for one reason or another, Paul was unable to connect with it while keeping it hidden away.

So, we decided to turn this gift into many brooches that would be given to people who helped us in this project, along with Paul and his niece. Each recipient receives two brooches: one to keep for themselves, one to give as a gift. Our hope is that by disseminating the original object into multiple wearable brooches, the spirit of the gift will be revived and the pieces will find a caring home.

natalya dana