When Ghanaian-Australian hip-hop star Genisis Owusu swept the recent Aria awards, he wasn’t the only one with reason to celebrate, it was also a big night for Canberra jewellery maker Jonathon Zalakos.  

Zalakos, who is based at The Australian National University (ANU), is the artist behind Owusu’s iconic gold grill for his teeth. 

Owusu wore the grill while showing off his four Aria awards. It also features prominently on the cover of album of the year, Smiling with no teeth.  

“I think it was one of those right place, right time things,” Zalakos says.  

“It’s incredible to see so many people talking about it.” 

Zalakos is multi-talented; his videos showcasing his work have racked up millions of views online.   

“For as long as I’ve been making jewellery, I’ve also been making videos about the process. I have a love for the format and spent a lot of time as a kid watching how-to videos,” he says.  

“It’s kind of shocking how many people have watched mine now.” 

It was his search for a model for one of his videos that led him to Owusu. 

“I didn’t want to use my own face – I couldn’t pull it off. I was at one of Owusu’s shows and just felt like he had the right energy. He had a good face for it and the right teeth. I got in touch via his manager and just sort of made it happen from there.”  

While Zalakos has been serious about his craft since he was around 14, grills presented a whole new challenge.  

“I had no idea how to go about it when I started. It was hard to find useful information. It was all trial and error, trying to figure out what would work,” he says.  

“From start to finish I think the process took about three or four months.”  

He won’t be resting on his laurels. He is already collaborating with other musicians, preparing for a solo exhibition in January, and in the final stages of his honours degree.  

“I tend to want to move on once I’ve become competent at something. I am always trying to figure out the next puzzle to pull off,” Zalakos says. 

“Now it’s about bringing it all together. I’ve got my dream people I would love to collaborate with, especially the avant-guard characters in the hip-hop space. The sort of characters who have wacky personalities. 

“More and more there’s a narrative associated with any music project. Getting into that world and making sense of it is all part of the fun.” 

Whatever Zalakos comes up with next, there is no mistaking his love for the craft. 

“For me, it doesn’t get much better than working with a piece of silver or gold,” he says.  

“Jewellery is small, its detailed – there’s a lot of skill in it. It is a concentrated form, and it becomes obvious if there is anything wrong at all with the final product.  

“It’s the biggest challenge for your buck as far as making goes.” 

Top image: Jewellery artist Jonathon Zalakos. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

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