“I just arrive.” During our interview with artist and designer, Ciarna Pham, Ciarna went into a short anecdote about giving a friend advice on how to deal with nerves when it comes to public speaking. With a simplicity that would put at ease even those suffering from the highest apprehension, Ciarna said, in no uncertain terms, that when it came to situation as such, she arrives. “I either know what I’m talking about or I don’t. It is as simple as.” From a quick glance at the pieces created by Ciarna under Kiki Na Art, it is very clear that she knows exactly what she is talking about. But with artistic origins, six years in Vietnam and the solo establishment of an independent business under her belt, there is no just about it. When it comes to Dublin’s creative scene, Kiki Na Art has arrived.
Following the completion of her BA in Fine Art from GMIT in Galway in 2004, Ciarna headed directly to Vietnam to volunteer for the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation. An organisation which, among other things, facilitates the education and learning opportunities for children in third world countries. Ciarna spent six years in Vietnam, progressing from a volunteer, to an employee, to the Foundations Art and Music Coordinator, managing ten teachers and over 350 children in boys’ and girls’ shelters. Running the programme with a local art teacher, who later become her husband, Ciarna speaks thoughtfully about how rewarding the experience was. “Everything we gave, we got back 100 times over.” A sentiment followed by candour, Ciarna and her husband, Duc, returned to Ireland in 2010. “Like a lot of people working for a charity, I got tired. Working in that environment you can become very desensitised to things around you and that’s not a way to be.”
Arriving back in Ireland during what Ciarna describes as “a deadly thing called The Recession,” she talks about readjusting to life in Dublin. “I had a reverse culture shock. I’d say overall it took me about a year and half to get used to being back. The Recession had hit, everyone was complaining, and I had just come from a place that was a lot worse off. It was hard to get used to.” With the boom very much banished and jobs scarce to come by, Ciarna and Duc took this period as a time to focus on creativity. “We were both unemployed but we got on with and just took it as an opportunity to work on our art.”
Firstly, Ciarna turned her attention to the art of her husband. “Everything was new and exciting for him, so I spent my time working on his work, promoting his art. He had exhibitions in London and Dublin and together we built a gallery out of a vacant space in London.” Taking time for herself too, Ciarna says in that time she took to photography and teaching art classes. “I took a lot of photos in that time, which really helped me work on maintaining my mental health.”
During this time of slowly settling back in to all things art and Ireland, her sister presented her with a gift. A small pair of earrings which donned a portrait of the artist Frida Kahlo. “I loved Fried and was mad about the earrings,” remembers Ciarna. “I started to make another pair and I got addicted”. The pair she made are a far cry from the artisan creations she is now famed for around Ireland, but Ciarna laughs, fondly remembering her first attempt. “I am really into illustration and I love Joan Baez, so I made a pair of earrings with her on them, made out of cardboard and Sellotape.” The incredible, handcrafted pieces of Kiki Na Art’s collections now, are made from various, hand painted and coated with lacquer by her husband Duc, have a slightly more artisan feel, but with these Joan Baez originals hanging proudly on her studio wall, Ciarna insists that this is where it all started.
Through humble beginnings of cardboard and Sellotape, Ciarna got to work, experimenting with different styles, pieces and icons. Grace Jones pendants were made, David Bowie earrings created, each piece then, as it still is now, was completely individual. Portraits changed, prints were played around with, and every item created by Ciarna was incredible and totally iconic.
“I’ve always had a love for artists. People who really express themselves, like musicians and poets and writers. We used to idolise Gods, but we’ve lost that now. Sometimes it’s like we are wandering aimlessly, on our phones, with our 50 million Facebook Friends.” Ciarna goes on to talk about an online group that she is part of called the Church of David Bowie. Though a Bowie fan herself, she says she doesn’t take it too seriously, but still she sees a community in it, something she reckons in lacking nowadays. “I like the idea of modern icons, something we can all look up to. Look at Grace Jones, at 68, hula-hooping for 25 minutes on stage. Or Joan Baez who founded Woodstock.” Feminists who have been requested countlessly by Kiki Na Art customers, Grace and Joan can be seen decorating the necks and lobes pf plenty around Dublin. On a more personal note Ciarna continues. “Going to see Leonard Cohen for my Dad was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. Sometimes in everyday life we have moments where people shine. We should celebrate this individuality and creativity, [that’s why] wearing a piece of Bowie around your neck allows you to access that when you’re stuck in that 9-5 or whatever.”
Though this access is great, a 9-5 is not actually needed to access Kiki Na Art. The price of her pieces range from €40 to €65, a pittance considering, not only their craftsmanship but the current cost of Irish Design. When asked of it, Ciarna says that it has often been suggested to her that she raise her prices, but she is reluctant to do so. “I haven’t raised them because I like different people wearing them, funky, creative people. Artists, cool people on the dole, no they can’t afford a Gucci bag, but they are wearing a Kiki piece. They have designer jewellery but aren’t sacrificing a week’s salary for it. Now if, in two years, I’m able to charge two grand a piece, I won’t be complaining but for now I believe that everything worth its salt starts underground, and that’s where I am.”
Starting as she means to go on, Kiki Na Art can be found online www.kikinaart.com and in Om Diva Boutique, Drury Street.
Words: Sinéad O’Reilly