Stories are at the heart of the language, food, and objects we pass down from generation to generation—the heirlooms we inherit from our lolas, the dog-eared black and white photographs of our families and the smell of freshly-cooked adobo. These stories evolve in meaning and transcend time.
As a sentimental collector of anik-anik (a regional term older Filipinos use to refer to trinkets), I’ve always gravitated toward items that carry meaning. These items are a reminder of who I am, what I went through, and where I came from.
When I bought AMAMI’s Estela Earrings, I knew they weren’t just elegant jewelry adorned with four rositas; they were also evidence of the pre-colonial art of gold filigree handcrafted by plateros of Ilocos Sur. This was a narrative empowered even more through an online kwentuhan (conversation) between Cambio & Co.’s founders Gelaine and Jérôme and AMAMI co-founder Christine Tiu.
With her cup of coffee and a warm smile, Christine narrates AMAMI’s ongoing story of empowering artisans and Filipinos who wish to revive the art of gold filigree. She also discusses the role of craftsmanship as resistance in an ever-changing landscape.
AMAMI and the Story of Gold Filigree
AMAMI is a social enterprise that aims to revive endangered Philippine jewelry traditions while providing sustainable livelihood to Filipino artisans. As Cambio & Co. co-founder Jérôme explained during the kwentuhan, "AMAMI preserves a pre-colonial artform called gold filigree—a technique that is native to the Philippines.”
The designs of AMAMI’s jewelry are rooted in traditional elements, combined with a modern character to their shape and design. The art of filigree is a meticulous process of shaping metals (in this case, pure silver) into ornate and intricate designs.
Embedded in their jewelries are the stories of plateros in Ilocos Sur as they diligently and carefully twist and mold blocks of silver or gold into intricate designs inspired by nature.
Learning the history behind AMAMI’s empowering business and purpose reminded me of the Philippines’ rich pre-colonial past—a narrative pushed to the side due to social and environmental factors that challenge its survival.
“How can a tradition so beautiful like this be on the verge of extinction?”
Unfortunately, the ‘imported is better’ mentality influences Filipinos’ purchasing habits. It teaches us to de-value our own talent and self-worth. Beaming with hope, Christine emphasizes craftsmanship as sources of resistance and empowerment.
Craftsmanship as Resistance
Christine emphasizes the importance of preserving such craft as a form of resistance: resistance to the erasure of the artform itself and resistance to skewed perceptions of Filipino artistry. She says, “Personally, for me, Filipino craftsmanship is an excellent way of debunking popular myths and distorted images of our ancestors that were propagated by colonial powers and still manifest in various ways up until today.”
Stereotypes like ‘little savages’, ‘barbarians’ and ‘dog-eaters’ perpetuated during the 1905 Dreamland Exhibit in Coney Island, New York and the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Seeing photographs of Filipinos being subjected to the white gaze was disheartening and frustrating. However, AMAMI’s story gave me more hope and confidence in representing our people with pride and respect.
Craftsmanship as Empowerment
Preserving craftsmanship is important because it is a source of pride for both the artisans and consumers. You could feel Christine’s pride and love for Filipina women as she explains the feminism in AMAMI’s products. As an advocate for women’s rights, Christine’s feminism is reflected in the names of their jewelry pieces as these are inspired by the names of inspiring and unsung Filipina women. An example is Leona Florentina, a figure of Philippine literature, who inspired the name for the Leona Creollas.
When it comes to empowering her team of artisans, she shares, “We provide them with support they need from acquiring these new tools and equipment, guiding them with basic accounting, ensuring they get fair wages and also, most importantly, a steady source of income.”
Within the business, she incorporates her ongoing commitment to women’s rights by leading a team wherein 38% of the artisans are women. She adds, “Now that we’re able to provide livelihood for them, they’re now able to support themselves.”
What we can learn from AMAMI is a vision of inclusivity and diversity that gives all people the freedom and confidence to practice their art. They create spaces of creativity and empowerment for plateros to continue the story of gold filigree.
In fact, Christine shares how some artisans returned to gold filigree because of AMAMI’s empowering vision that resonated with them. She shares, “As months passed, we observed a greater sense of confidence and pride among our artisans.” Christine’s enthusiasm in empowering AMAMI’s artisans is so inspiring to many of us. She speaks about them like family -- all members are equally important in the preservation of gold filigree.
The brand’s vision of empowerment is also manifested through the financial support and scholarships that it provides its team of artisans. Christine shares how *Matthew, one of the AMAMI artisans, was able to finish building his dream home because of the creative space and the financial support that AMAMI created and provided, respectively, for artisans like him.
As a social enterprise that connects us to our diverse heritage, AMAMI also embodies the spirit of the Filipino word bayanihan—a word that moves us to think beyond ourselves, to empower individuals, and to help communities vocalize their stories to the world.
Empowerment in an Evolving Landscape
Regardless of the social landscape, communities of artisans are adapting innovative designs and methods in their craftsmanship while preserving the story and purpose of their art. In the same way, AMAMI is constantly evolving as reflected by the pieces they design and their methods of running a business during a pandemic.
Christine reveals how craftsmanship has changed during these difficult times: “The time it takes to create pieces increased. The work is slower because now, artisans are separated and are able to work in the safety of their homes.” Despite the delay of raw materials, AMAMI financially empowers their artisans with cash advances. Christine remains hopeful during trying times. The twinkle in her eyes shows her optimism in the face of challenge.
Actions speak louder than words, and AMAMI’s commitment to livelihood says a lot about how much they value the artisans and craftsmanship behind their work. AMAMI’s perseverance during this unprecedented time shows their adaptability and steadfast commitment in strengthening and supporting the artisan community in the best way they can.
Wearing Your Heritage As a Community of Storytellers
When discussing their methods of raising awareness and educating the general public about the craft, Christine reminds us of our role as storytellers. Christine emphasizes the role of customers and advocates as the main storytellers, not only of their brand, but of the artform, itself.
She says, “How can we save a tradition that we don’t know about? And so all of our advocates, Filipinos, non-Filipinos and those who really care and believe in our mission... become our storytellers too.”
Being a storyteller crosses geographical boundaries. It is an embodied practice that Cambio & Co imbibes in its advocacy of “Wear Your Heritage”, which bridges our Filipino culture to the global market, by passing these stories through locally designed and handcrafted pieces from the Philippines.
Storytelling should strive to uplift others by passing the narrative—whether through starting a community organization, producing art or instilling into our identities Cambio & Co’s core advocacy of wearing one’s heritage through fashion.
Stories Create Communities
Stories or kwentos are at the heart of every experience, every conversation and every item we have. They are what make us unique—both individually and collectively. Just as how our identities are composed of different stories and experiences, the Philippines, too, is a country filled with history and stories manifested in the traditions, the culture and the art of its people.
AMAMI’s story reminds us as a global community that there is so much fulfillment and pride in sharing our culture with others. Gelaine, co-founder of Cambio & Co., shares how the act of wearing one’s heritage is, in itself, a powerful way of foregrounding artisans, their story and the artforms that are often underrepresented.
Sharing the story of our heritage is an ongoing process of reclaiming and preserving Filipino culture. So, whether you cook Filipino delicacies, write poetry, lead a community, or run a social enterprise, we, just like AMAMI, can empower ourselves and others through the very work of reconnection and reclaiming we do.
“Where do I start? How do I begin the work of preserving and reclaiming?”
For many of us in the diaspora, we may often find ourselves overwhelmed with these questions. AMAMI’s story encourages us to start by becoming storytellers of our own culture and heritage. If you’re feeling unmotivated or lost in your reconnection journey, Christine’s story may be the catalyst for you to persevere and move forward.
During a time of social unrest and pandemic, storytelling is more important than ever. It brings awareness about and appreciation for stories that matter. It is a site of resistance because it keeps the important conversations alive and brings us together, no matter where we are in the world.
Catch the recording of our Kwentuhan With Cambio on Filipino Artistry here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZ4EKuGd41k
*names were changed to protect their privacy