The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
Yelena Noah is a jewellery designer of Swedish, French and Cameroonian heritage who grew up in the US. A former model, Yelena also has a bachelor degree in political science and international affairs. The daughter of tennis star Yannick Noah and former Miss Sweden Cécilia Rodhe, she elaborates on her creative process when designing jewellery and how it has drawn her to Cameroon.
Why did you decide to become a jewellery designer?
I started painting symbols when I was 12 years old. Initially, my paintings were on canvas and silk, but then the process evolved naturally. I began to make jewellery which is durable and also wearable. My mother is a sculptor who works with marble and I guess that my upbringing among artists informed my own creative process.
Now that my collection is out, I see another evolution in philanthropic endeavours, where the collection can support Cameroonian culture in new and interesting ways. I used to go to Cameroon every year (not so much in the last couple of years); growing up there was very important to my family. My grandfather lives in Cameroon and my dad goes often. With this collection I am opening a path where I can go to Cameroon and work on my line.
How does your African heritage inform your creativity?
It’s part of who I am, part of the way I grew up. I find it interesting that Cameroon just came out naturally and effortlessly in my work.
My work relates to Cameroon, because Cameroon is in my DNA.
I wasn’t trying to copy the work of Cameroonian jewellers or artists but when I produced the pieces I noticed that there was a big tribal element to some of them, including the specific kind of symmetry that I like. It’s not all Africa: of course, there is a lot of South American inspiration in there also with Maya and Inca influences, but Africa is definitely there.
Not too long ago, I was travelling through Kribi on the coast of Cameroon and I spotted some symbols and a set of Toghu prints that were so similar to my work. It’s all very Cameroonian. Right then and there, it became even more obvious. My work relates to Cameroon, because Cameroon is in my DNA.
Who’s your African of the year?
It would have to be Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei, the two young women from Nigeria and Ghana who launched a startup called She Leads Africa. They created a platform where women can share entrepreneurial ideas.
They offer support to women-led businesses in Africa, from mentorship all the way to financing. I think platforms like She Leads Africa can make a difference on the continent.
Follow Yelena Noah on @YelenaNoah
Find out about her jewellery collection on yelenanoah.com
Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica