Guest Curator: Kel Cadet-Lyons

"I don’t want to just limit myself to saying that I’m an accessories designer or a jewellery designer, I think of my art as product design or interdisciplinary if you will", Kel told us over Zoom. Kel Cadet-Lyons is the woman behind the US lifestyle brand R-KI-TEKT, home to quality hand-made leather and wood accessories and jewellery.

 Pictured: Kel Cadet-Lyons 

Having always been a creative, Kel recalls her memories as a little girl at home where she would cut up her clothes and draw on the walls. Going on to study Fashion & Design at school, Kel  established her business R-KI-TEKT  after the birth of her first child. "I was just trying to figure out my style. Here I am with a new body and a new outlook on life, and it wasn’t really forever twenty-one anymore. It wasn’t youthful, I felt new. I wanted to rebuild myself and I just said to myself I wish I was my own style architect, and it kind of was like oh, you are your own architect of your whole life, especially the things around you."

"I think brown and periwinkle should be together, and I think eucalyptus green and lilac grey go together. It doesn’t make sense, but it all works harmoniously for me in my mind."

 

 A faithful practitioner of internationalism, Kel sought to integrate that ethos into the foundation of her business through creating accessories, jewellery and lifestyle goods that are uniquely purposeful to the buyer, and that  can easily be incorporated into the lives that her customers are building for themselves.  

Citing travel as one the primary inspirations for her designs, Kel points to her childhood summers at her grandparents' home in Haiti as the driving force behind her mindset. "When we would go to the markets, I just noticed at an early age how resourceful people were by using the most random objects for their livelihood to get things done. It wasn’t in the name of aesthetics, it was in the name of need." It was at these markets that Kel found the artistry in juxtaposition and the beauty in the oxymoronic, appreciating the value of  unlikely fabric compositions and colours combinations that may not make sense by traditional artistic measures, but work nonetheless. 

 Discussing her choice to work with leather and wood, she shared with us: "As the company grew, I felt like those materials were kind of like earth-given luxuries. A lot of high-end brands of course use leather, but we are taught to treat them so precious, and what I do is a little bit more playful in essence. Even though I see them as luxuries, I still like to have that little element of play. They also just work well with what I do and last longer." 

"I feel like when you open up my soul it’s a lush green space."

Kel introduces this sense of play to her designs, particularly in her use of colours, describing the creation of her favourite design, her palm print, as somewhat of a happy accident. "I spilled a little green paint on some white leather, and I was like oh no what am I going to do with this green in the middle of this white leather? What can I make out of this? When I brushed it away, it was just like a stroke and I was like let’s see what happens. I thought that it kind of looked tropical, and I just kept making the stroke, and it looked like a palm. It’s so reflective of what I know most. At my grandmother’s house they have such a beautiful assortment of greenery."

  This appreciation of colours is rooted in her love of art. She talked with us about her favourite classical artists, namely Henri Matisse who she admires for his experimentation with form and colour, as well as American painter Mark Rothko, who gained his reputation by creating colour field paintings that depicted rectangular patches of various shades. "I love colour. People who understand colour are my people, but Rothko took it to a whole new level. I believe that colour is therapy, that colour is healing and what he created with transcendentalism and understanding that colour gives off vibration and gives off energy and that it can affect an entire space around you, I think it’s revolutionary." However, perhaps her most heavy inspiration are the Suri people, a pastoral tribe who make their home along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. "I love referencing the Suri tribe because I think those children are the most magical beings in all of the land. They take pigments of the earth and adorn themselves. They mark make on their bodies, it’s scarification to us but for them it’s rights of passage, it’s honouring their spirit." Although the Suri tribe are perhaps most known for their lip plates, ear stretchers and mark making, they are lesser recognised in western cultures for their contributions to celebrated artistic traditions in which their practice of decorative scarification is referenced, but rarely is its origins ever truly acknowledged.

"For designers and artists just make it, if it’s ugly, if it falls apart, if it fails, just make it."

2020 was a whirlwind for us all globally, small and independent business owners were hit especially hard by the sudden halt in operations. Yet, in the summer months a new storm was brewing. We all watched as protests broke out on the streets, and the renewed calls for social justice insistently knocked on our doors once again, this time refusing to be dismissed. "As the summer continued it became less about Covid and more about social change and social injustice. There was such an illumination for all, that impacted me as a black business owner. All of a sudden there was a pouring into my space that I didn’t foresee and I’m grateful for that, for people acknowledging." This acknowledgement for Kel meant a brighter spotlight on her business, and with it finally garnering an increased level of attention, it became evident that all those just barely tolerated shredded articles of clothing and childhood impressions on the walls were not in vain. With it came more opportunities; Kel's creations can now be bought at American department store Macy's and she just recently did a partnership with baby gear company Bloom Global, which saw her print on a car seat. 

But, perhaps her greatest achievement is making her mother and daughter proud of all her achievements. "When my daughter recognised that I was an artist and that I was doing this full-time she was like ‘wow you did this.’ She’s seen me always making things and spread out on the floor in the apartment. She’s never seen a clear space that didn’t incorporate my business or my love for making. This past year with new opportunities, she’s seeing the amount of work in the home, she’s so inspired." What are these new opportunities you may ask? Well, we are all in the dark in this regard, but we can be sure to find out soon.

Until then, Kel can be found drinking coffee, working on her next big project whilst listening to her records as incense burns in the air.

If you would like to purchase any of Kel's beautiful designs, or are curious to know more about what she makes visit her website R-KI-TEKT, and follow her on Instagram @shoprkitekt to see what she does next.

 

Kel's Curated Collection

 

"I have always loved imagery of Black people on horses.  It dispels the common storytelling that we were always fed about the cowboy and those in pastoral and rural spaces.  Being of West Indian heritage, seeing these visuals bring me to a mental space of familiarity.  The richness of his skin, the random pops of color, the lush vegetation.  The composition is soothing as well.  You can never deny the presence of a person mounted on a horse without a saddle. "
 "I am incredibly fond of African masks.  For me they act as an integral part in linking artisanal and spiritual practices of the past with that of the modern world.  Being that so many have mislocated (i.e. stolen from their home countries) many of symbolisms are retranslated and reproduced for consumption.  What Mendes has created is a beautiful tribute to something that is not intended for aesthetic pleasure, and has allowed us partake."
"The composition of this piece reminds me of one of my favorite works by Matisse, The Dance. Only it is more cosmic and almost dreamlike. 
I love how Chibambo represents and diversifies the forms through the maze like curls and varying depictions of skin."
"I can 'hear' this piece and I am left waiting for the figures to leap off the page and continue in their dance. I admire the intricacy required of hand-cut work and the addition of the batik fabrication.  Kawooya has created such a fluidity with their figures,  honing in  the sense of familiarity and engagement I believe was intended." 
"I admire compositions that reflect ordinary circumstances. The positioning of these two figures feels inviting, but also the subtly of the glass tipped over leaves me to believe there is potential discourse ahead. I'm certainly engaged and curious, wanting to learn more about what their discussion entails. I also fall hard for beautifully constructed palettes that incorporate a balance of bold and muted. Niat executed this harmony beautifully."
" I've been a long-time fan of Osborne's bust portraits.  Her strokes are so bold and confident in execution that it is hard to deny how visually 
entrancing they each are."

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