Art, thought and self-expression with Eina Ahluwalia

Conceptual jewellery artist Eina Ahluwalia’s creations tell stories. She talks to 
SWATI SENGUPTA about creating 
from the soul, and the motivations behind hours of bending over her workbench with her fretsaw

By Swati Sengupta

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Published: Sat 22 Mar 2014, 8:35 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 10:18 PM

How did jewellery happen to you? You are someone with a good head on your shoulders, someone who wouldn’t be attracted by the superficiality of jewellery. Or am I wrong? Is there no contradiction at all?

I always loved jewellery, but never thought I’d be making it. I completed MBA, joined the corporate world, but in four years realized I wanted to do something more meaningful. I quit and decided to make jewellery with the master craftsmen in Bengal.

In January 2003 I set up my label, and made contemporary silver jewellery. From 2006 for two and a half years, I worked as consultant for a jewellery export company, learnt production process and traveled to jewellery fairs across the world. Soon I decided to refocus my energies to take my own work to the next level.

I was also beginning to question the motive of jewellery — as, fulfilling the need for ornamentation seemed shallow. My search for meaning led me to discover conceptual art jewellery just by chance. It is where the concept/idea is most important, the jewellery is just a way to tell the story. It’s evaluated — like fine art — for ideas, intuitions, content, worn for self expression, to communicate thoughts, ideologies and even sense of humour. My jewellery could now be my expression, my way to place myself in the world.

After a stint with Ruudt Peters in Holland (2010) and at the Alchimia School of Contemporary Jewellery, Florence on experimental techniques and material (2011), I realize that working on each piece with my own hands requires patience, precision, calm spirit and a quiet soul. It provided the stillness I always search for.

What influences your art?

Most often life and my interaction with it. Is the life around us real or the one we live in our head? Perspectives — from my eyes and yours, and the space in between. The Self – am I the body or the soul? The Breath that defines one magical moment that I have in which to create my world. Also, travel, books, music, art, architecture, ordinary people showing extraordinary strength...

The concept comes from deep within, sometimes as a sharing of realisations, strong conviction, and at other times as a cathartic experience for myself. The more I grow as a person, the more I have to share through my jewellery. On the other hand, I have experienced that the more you grow as a person, the less you need to say. My jewellery continues to evolve at this intersection of art, thought and self expression.

In many countries including in India, there is a history/custom of showing off, violence against women over dowry, jewellery, money. However, one of your collections talks about violence against women. Isn’t there a contradiction?

The collection, “Wedding Vows” takes an empowering stand against domestic violence, reminding women that they need to Love, Respect and Protect themselves, even if the other person doesn’t. It reminds women (and warns men) that they have the power of deities Durga and Kali, and can stand up against violence and protect themselves.

Motifs that invoke power of deities – swords, knives, trishul, weapons of goddesses – are intricately worked, grand like wedding jewels traditionally given to a bride, and yet, are symbols of empowerment. The message is also to families that their daughter’s trousseau must be strength, support and knowledge, not just gold.

You train women from shelter homes in jewellery making …

While some of our profits are allocated towards different organisations/cause each year, I am personally involved with ‘Made By Survivors’ (set up by John and Sarah Berger in the US & India). They teach women from shelter homes in India jewellery making, sell their production in the US. This is the first generation of women jewellery makers in India, traditionally all jewellery craft people are men. These women’s lives have changed. We hope to have an India launch of their jewellery in a year or so. I train them on conceptual jewellery.

Is it not inconvenient to work out of Kolkata considering such a large number of your clients are stars from Mumbai?

I live in Kolkata for my family and the craftsmen I work with. My parents live here, this is home. Also, nowhere else in the world will I find the outstanding jewellery craftsmen that we have here in Bengal.

What do you dream to achieve through your work?

I hope I am able to create a few moments where people come face to face with themselves through the stories in my jewellery.

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