How Hyderabad’s Swapna Mehta is turning vintage Indian into modern contemporary
The artist uses craftsmanship of yore to create pieces of jewellery and collectablesbrunch Updated: Oct 06, 2018 22:35 IST
What happens when art deco Victorian ornaments and elements from South Indian jewellery meet the crafts of Kutch, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra? Well, you get the most exquisite necklace - one that’ll not only make heads turn but double as a piece of art and history combined! This and similar pieces of statement jewellery are the forte of Hyderabad-based Swapna Mehta, 43, who creates what could be best described as contemporary heirlooms for the modern woman.
When I meet her at an ongoing exhibition at Vayu, Bikaner House, Delhi, Swapna shows me a necklace inspired by a Maharashtrian nath. “It’s the one piece I continue to treasure,” she says. A single jhumka, a few pieces from an old necklace, nose rings, some South nakshi jada pieces and lots of pieces from South India are few of the ingredients that Swapna throws into the mix to curate a beautiful necklace!
An artistic edge
Swapna, I discover, is no ordinary jewellery designer. Rather, she’s an artist who puts together very distinct, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewellery. These might be created out of some of the most traditional individual pieces of great craftmanship, yet they fit into and belong comfortably to a modern landscape.
“I source my pieces from all over the country and from various ethnicities and tribes as each piece has a story to tell,” says Swapna. “Sometimes I may also use an art deco or a Victorian piece to give it a twist. I make sure that every collection is local, global, and extremely versatile.”
Sourcing old pieces of jewellery with great craftsmanship and lineage is always a challenge. But once that’s overcome, she says: “I up-cycle them with new elements to tell a story with a twist!”
The process is simple, she explains. “I stitch the pieces together with thread, and then my karigar and goldsmith replicate the same flow with gold wire.” These are in real gold and precious old mine gems, and sometimes Swapna adds a touch of old silver too.
Two years into the business, Swapna’s USP is really her philosophy behind her creations. “I’m constantly exploring the nexus between heritage and fashion to incorporate treasured historic pieces into wearable art,” she says. Traditionally the old pieces she sources would be revered in museums and galleries, but she aims to make them accessible to modern women.
Her debut show was at Bungalow 8 and she showcases her at Elan in Ahmedabad once a year. “This June, I had a show at London’s famed Francesca Galloway gallery, which is a pioneer in Indian and Islamic art,” she shares.
Laying the foundation
Swapna has no formal training in jewellery designing but she’s always been closely involved the arts. Her creative journey began with a chance meeting with a Sri Lankan architect named C Anjalendran. She took a three-year apprenticeship under him and started crafting Sri Lankan artworks for private residences.
Her creative inspiration stems from diverse corners of the world. “I am a big fan of Geoffrey Bawa, Le Corbusier and Zaha Hadid, and at the same time back home in India, I have immense respect for artists, tribal and rural weavers and artisans. They inspire me from time to time and in some way or the other, all these influences have shaped my work,” she says with pride.
Her dislike of fashion trends is what set her on this path. “In India we have Bollywood-set trends for jewellery and style, which never appealed to me,” she explains. “I was always drawn to vintage craftsmanship and loved collecting the bits and pieces of antique jewels I could afford.”
Her passion for antique pieces began to bubble over when, years ago, while scavenging through the old bazaars of Hyderabad, Swapna met a lady who was trying to melt down and sell her old jewellery so she could buy new, machine-made pieces instead. Since this woman had no interest in her exquisite handmade pieces, Swapna bought them from her. This gradually became an obsession, and she ended up with beautiful big and small pieces that couldn’t be worn by themselves, and started putting them together anew.
“I source my pieces from all over the country and from various ethnicities and tribes as each piece has a story to tell.... I make sure that every collection is local, global, and extremely versatile” -Swapna Mehta
“I discovered people want my work because it looks modern and just works with everything without screaming for attention,” she says. “The pieces work as each one has a story to tell and is one of a kind.”
Though India’s jewellery-buying market tends to blindly follow trends, Swapna’s work has quite a market. “We also have those who understand art, textiles and the history of our craftsmanship,” says Swapna. “We all love the things our grandmothers wore, though not necessarily how they wore those things.”
Her target clientele therefore, is today’s woman, a person who lives by her own rules. “Bespoke vintage with a modern twist is definitely for the new-age bride. And young women with fierce and edgy styles love them too!” she says.
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From HT Brunch, October 7, 2018
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First Published: Oct 06, 2018 21:12 IST