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Monifa Edwards

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I was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy & Oceanhill Brownsville during tumultuous political times that influenced my worldview and my art. I have always been enamored of old things that have endured throughout years. I love objects that tell a story. My father came from Curacao and my mother from Puerto Rico providing as much endless investigative inspiration as did my neighbors and community. My work resonates all of this.
I began making jewelry when I was fourteen as part of a Youth-In-Action program spearheaded by community activist Jitu Weusi. It was a communal experience shared with my closest friends, Sufia DeSilva, Veronica Gee and Cleaster Cotton who also continued jewelry making and other art disciplines as life long pursuits. Over the years they, along with Sonia Cotto, have been my teachers, consultants and main sources of inspiration. Back then we made and traded beaded ankle bracelets, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. We used the colors of liberation and our cultures coupled with our boundless youthful imaginations under the trained eye of instructor Nadia Fattah. I began selling my work in my new high school, John Dewey, to students and teachers along with Black News, which helped to support another institution that helped define me as an artist…The East.
Years later I had the very good fortune to work in New York City’s premier African American, fine jewelry store, Dar El Sudan. I learned to work in metals from brass to platinum while gaining a retail perspective of the jewelry business under the tutelage of Dar El Sudan’s owner, Nkosi Whittington and master artist, Ogundipe Fayomi, who was in charge of the apprentices. Ogundipe became my lifelong friend whose constant support and artistic integrity has helped me continually grow my artistry. Dar El Sudan was the launch pad that gave me the support and confidence to initially go out on my own.
In 1976 I took to the streets as a classic street vendor under the banner of “Monifa Designs” selling in the Village and Columbus Circle. During this time I had the blessing to be taken under the wing of master jeweler, Atu Ram, who taught me a wealth of techniques. I was able to support myself through my street vending and part time work, which allowed me to also explore the disciplines of modern dance and writing.
Monifa Designs grew. Throughout the years, in addition to consistently making one-of-a-kind, artisan jewelry pieces, I’ve had the honor and privilege to execute logo jewelry items for entities ranging from The Muscular Dystrophy Association to The City Of Mount Vernon. I have executed the family crest of the Tokunaga family of Japan as well as spearhead the team that helped realize artistic visions of Tony Award winning designer, Anne Hould-Ward for the Disney Corporation. I have been a design consultant for artist Red Grooms and jeweler to Gregory Hines. I have been very blessed!
In 2005, my husband and I founded The Motique Gallery on the parlor floor of our home with Ogundipe Fayomi as curator. We were blessed to have artists Otto Neals, Emmett Wigglesworth, Vivian Ara, Derick Cross, Danny Simmons, Leroy Campbell, Shimoda, Rosita Walsh and Genise Amorim among others, showcase their work.
At that same time I began what probably will go down in my artistic history as my most important work. Through the organization, Feel The Music, I taught the art of jewelry making to children who had lost a parent in the World Trade Center. The class grew to include their mothers and other adults who had lost loved ones. I witnessed art transforming lives and creating community firsthand. My students will never know the many gifts they bestowed upon me.


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