As part of her research, Divya N, a Chennai-based designer has come up with a project called Jewelry in Narratives. The project curates and presents myths, temple histories, folklore, and moral stories— from India in which jewellery plays an important role.
The jewellery draws inspiration from the 600-year-old storytelling craft of tholu bommalata (shadow leather puppetry) that is practiced in Andhra Pradesh. “Tholu bommalata is a form of folk theatre from Nimmalakunta, Andhra Pradesh. Here, the puppeteer uses translucent leather puppets to tell mythical stories. The stories, songs, and colorful puppets go hand in hand in tholu bommalata and one does not exist without the other. The puppeteers represent the mighty creator who pulls the strings, controls the story and the movements of the puppet and the characters they portray. But over the years, there is a steady decline in patronage and the puppet makers have turned to commodify their craft as decor objects and jewellery. These objects exist fragmented, separated from their stories. Through the Jewelry in Narratives project, I wanted to unite the jewellery with the story once again, offering a new approach to the craft that is sustainable and profitable to the community. Through designs, I found a way to reconnect with the objects of the story,” says Divya N.
This project functions on the ‘create with me’ framework of design where the collaborators teach and learn new skills from each other. All artwork for the stories and jewellery have been painstakingly created by Divya N and Sinde Sriramulu.
The whole project was conceived and executed during the pandemic, under several constraints.
“It is a collaborative project and I closely worked with artisans. The spacers and accents used in jewellery are made of brass by Dokra artisans in Chattisgarh. As a designer, I wanted to create a way in which we are not just commodifying the craft for profit. This project started as a research experiment, and is now featured in New York City Jewelry Week 2021 as a durational exhibition,” she adds. Stories from Ramayana, Jataka tales and Mahabharata feature in the project.
While we refer to India as one entity, it is not our goal to homogenise Indian culture. So we have combined different versions of narratives and presented them as text, videos and pictures of jewellery. “This non-profit project looks at art jewellery as adornment, as a repository of stories, a signifier of culture, and as a narrative device,” sums up Divya.