Melanie Bilenker

Melanie Bilenker is an American artist based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who translates the historic art of Victorian memorial hair jewelry into work that reflects upon the contemporary era. Instead of implementing the traditional decorative motifs of curls, plaits, and flowers, she depicts ordinary moments of everyday life through self portrait scenes “drawn” in her own hair and set in gold and silver. Bilenker received a BFA in Crafts and Jewelry from the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, and maintains a studio at the JV Collective, a collaborative jewelry workspace. Bilenker’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions and can be found in numerous public collections.


Brunette to Blonde Friendship Pin

Date of Creation: February 1, 2021

List of Materials: Artist’s half-bleached teenage hair on paper, gold, silver, mineral glass

Dimensions: 1in x 1in x .25in

Photographer's Name: Melanie Bilenker

Model's Name: Melanie Bilenker

Other Contributors: JV Collective (curatorial collaborators) In response to JV Collectives’ Fall 2020 curatorial project In-School Suspension, members of JV Collective dredged up their own feelings of nostalgia and angst for a time in life that is often messy and transformative: High School. Each member reflected on those formative years and the items that once adorned their bodies. This series of work, Homeroom, is a snapshot of adolescence and made its virtual debut during Munich Jewellery Week 2021.

Conceptual Statement: The jewelry of my adolescent and teen years involved beads, charms, crystals and tokens. Most treasured were those swapped with friends: half a heart charm, a knotted friendship bracelet, beads on a safety pin worn on my shoelace. Another adolescent thread was the freedom of self-control provided by hair clippers. Physical change brought solace in the years when I felt most out of control. At times I would bleach my short hair from dark brown to rusty orange-blonde and then buzz it off again. As a saver of things, I kept some half-bleached teenage locks. For Homecoming, in the manner of tokens traded by Victorian era friends and lovers, I plaited my teen hair, set it beneath a heart-shaped glass and dangled it from a gold pin. Take this heart with a lock of my hair to remember me, you can pin it to your laces.

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