Mary Esses x Fatima Bocoum: A Conversation On Sexual Abuse, The 7 Deadly Sins & Jewelry Design


Mary Esses reached out to me a few months ago to collaborate on a photoshoot to explore the 7 deadly sins: pride, gluttony, lust, envy, wrath, greed and sloth, for her eponymous jewelry line. Originally from Brazil, Mary is a New York based designer, who mixes fine stones, gold and silver. With a background in painting and ceramics, she creates artisanal masterpieces with a modern and clean look and a dash of luxury for an elegant and uncomplicated statement. I was intrigued by the rationale behind the project and her background as a survivor of sexual abuse. And given the political climate pertaining to women’s socio-cultural conditions, I figured it would be interesting to learn a new perspective.

Fatima: A couple of months ago, you and I collaborated on a photoshoot with the Seven Deadly Sins as a theme. Why this theme, why now?

Mary: The idea behind that photoshoot was to explore what a sin is. Are the sins we, women, have learned as sins are really sins? What is, in fact, behind lust, greed, envy and everything else? Aren’t these ways to cope with the profound needs we have? In my opinion, there is only one sin: hurt with the intention of actually hurting — a wrongful act towards someone knowing the person is not in accordance with the act. Everything else that a woman does for her pleasure without the intention of hurting should not be considered as a sin. And if we were more honest with ourselves and acted more on our beliefs, even when these are out of the boundaries set by others, we will be less anxious.


Fatima: Please tell us about your background, where you are from, and how you got your start as a jewelry designer.

Mary: I started 18 years ago in Brazil. At that time, I was running my own school of arts and crafts, and decided to learn something else — jewelry making. I was always into arts. I painted, sculpted, and tried many different media. I am a kid in that sense...


Fatima: Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

Mary: We all get inspired by things we see, places we go, experiences we live. I am like everybody else, but afterwards, I translate my inspiration into jewelry. Sometimes I design a whole collection, and it is only after that I understand where it started and why those pieces are under the same collection. Sometimes it is the opposite; something hits me, and I design a whole collection based on it. 


Fatima: What materials do you use, what is the  process like, and your favorite thing to do while creating?

Mary: I mainly work with silver and 18K gold and stones. All of them. From diamonds to crystals. I love mixing other materials like leather, brass, or pottery. The process is the best part. it is almost a meditation marathon. I throw myself in drawings, experiments, taping things together to see how it looks. It is a playground, where I play with myself for hours and hours. Listening to music, photographing, and then erasing and making modifications until I get to the look I like. When all is ready, I edit again, but now taking into account the final prices, so I have a proper range of items and looks.


Fatima: What’s your favorite piece in your current collection, and why?

Mary: One of the necklaces in my latest collection, Tribe, resembles a fox. it has this geometrical strength and fierceness that makes me want to wear it all the time. It is sharp, strong, and somewhat a protection amulet.


Fatima: As many of us women, you’ve gone through an abuse early on in your life. Please tell us about it. 

Mary: When it happened, I was way too young. I didn't have the maturity or understanding of what was going on. It started when I was about 13. My father would come to my bed every night after my mother had fallen asleep. He would touch me and stay there for a while. I started hating the night, fearing that slow opening of the door, the light beam that would reach my eyes, and immediately freeze me. It lasted a few years. I had a horrible relationship with my mother as well, and never counted on her. I told my older brother, who also couldn’t do much. I think after telling him, I spoiled their relationship.


Fatima: How did you deal with it, where did you find support, and why do you now speak about it?

Mary: Till this day, I deal with the abuse and what it imprinted on me. It did mess with my mind, and how I acted towards men, and the way it influenced some of my choices. I did a lot of therapy, different types of therapy. But only time, growing older, and learning more from others who have been through what I’ve been — or worse — gave me the perspective I needed in order to understand who I was at that time. Remarkable is the fact that although I was the victim,  I am still afraid some people in my family will read this and resent me for writing about it. 


Fatima: Brazilian women are standing up stronger than ever before. They’ve protested against far-right’s Jair Bolsonaro in the #EleNao march. What are your thoughts on Brazilian women’s socio-cultural conditions?

Mary: Women everywhere are becoming more aware of the injustices that prevailed between the sexes. With communication and information being so much more accessible these days, we are able to learn from others’ points of view. We are in touch with the powerful validation and support that we have someone that can speak up for us and we then can speak up for others. We are now connected as a one big strength against injustice. Brazil is a patriarchal country. Men had the power, could say and do much more that women. Now change is coming as it is coming everywhere else. Bolsonaro, the newly elected president is openly against women having the same rights as men. He won the elections, so that proves Brazil Is not yet on the cusp of letting go of old patterns, but it sure is on its way.

Fatima: What has been the best part of your creative journey so far?

Mary: Using my art as an outlet for my emotions. It is a healing tool…

Photography by Andrea D’Andrea