An Expressive Jewelry Line That Celebrates the Devices Worn by Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing People
Brooklyn-based model, artist, and activist Chella Man received his first hearing aids when he was 4 years old. Eight years later, he received cochlear implants, an electronic device that partially restores hearing. It consists of a sound processor that cups the back half of the ear, and a receiver and stimulator that’s surgically implanted under the skin and delivers sound signals to the auditory nerve via electrodes that are threaded into the cochlea, a spiral cavity of the inner ear. Cochlear implants also feature an external unit, which is attached to the head behind the top part of the ear, that serves as a speech processor, microphone, or transmitter. While grateful for the implements, Man long felt a disconnect between their conspicuous appearance and his self. “I’ve always strived for the agency over the ways I present myself in this world,” he says. “But with my cochlear implants, I have no say in how they are designed or what they look like.”
The quandary informed a jewelry collection that Man released earlier this year in collaboration with the New York fashion label Private Policy. Together with designers Siying Qu and Haoran Li, Man created eight gold-plated metal ear accessories that accentuate and embellish hearing devices or cochlear implants with expressive, abstract shapes. To mark the launch of the project, Man wrote and directed a short film that featured himself, alongside model Rayly Aquino and dancer Raven Sutton (who are both also deaf), wearing the jewelry while submerged in water. Half of the accessories’ profits will be donated to the San Francisco–based Deaf Queer Resource Center, a nonprofit that Man, who identifies as genderqueer and trans-masculine, sees as a much-needed source of community for people like him. Here, Man speaks about the jewelry line, and the stereotypes about deaf and hard-of-hearing communities that he’s working to combat.