Eina Ahluwalia grew up in a secure home with loving parents, who always treated her and her younger sibling with respect, from earliest childhood. The world outside the home, however, is not very respectful to young girls and women, and Eina found her blood boiling when walking down the street could mean a man brushing past her, or eyeing her breasts, or just touching her when/where he could. However, this rage had to find expression, and it did so in an unusual medium: the medium of jewellery.
An MBA followed by a few years in the corporate world left her dissatisfied. She had been designing jewellery in her free time, and felt that it was her calling, her chosen medium to express her creativity and her thoughts. After bidding adieu to corporate life, she devoted herself to her art. She also carried out a lot of research on the Internet, in order to understand international trends in jewellery design, as well as the relatively recent field of conceptual jewellery. She was fascinated by the pioneering work of Ruudt Peters, in Holland, and trained with him for a while, as well as at the Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School in Florence, Italy. Not only are her designs the result of deep soul searching, they are executed by a handful of craftsmen who still practise the art of fretwork, handcrafting each piece, thus preserving a traditional craft heritage.
I first became aware of Ms. Ahluwalia when she came to give a talk at a women's club I belong to. It was an amazing morning- interactive and fun, where we all got into an animated discussion of why and how jewellery was worn down the ages. What really took my breath away was the video presentation of her Wedding Vows collection, at the Lakme Fashion Week 2011.
From her website: http://www.einaahluwalia.com/
"I am Durga & Kali. Love, Respect & Protect me. Or else I will." This collection is an empowering stand against domestic violence, which permeates through social, economic, professional, religious boundaries. Our concept note above, outlines the physical, sexual, psychological nature and definition of domestic violence and alongside, upholds the three pillars on which a marriage stands - Love, respect and protecting each other. It also reminds the women (and warns men) that they have the power of the goddesses Durga and Kali, and can stand up against violence and protect themselves. Some strong motifs that invoke the power of the goddesses are swords, knives and the trishul, weapons of the goddesses themselves, all intricately worked, beautiful and grand like wedding jewels traditionally given to a bride, and yet, symbols of empowerment. The underlying message is also to the families that their daughters' trousseau must be strength, support and knowledge, and not just gold. The trishuls also are symbolic of the trinity of Love, Respect and Protect, which as words, are also motifs used in the jewellery.
Eina has always been amazed how a culture which worships the goddess in the form of Durga and Kali can often treat its women so badly. This collection was inspired by hearing from women close to her how insidiously marriage to an abusive partner could drain them of their sense of self-worth, beauty, desirability, economic independence, and isolate them from their sources of emotional sustenance- these are all subversive forms of abuse, as well as the more obvious cruelty of physical violence. The scars and bruises of emotional abuse do not show on the body, but they can destroy a woman just as much. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to recognise a potential abuser prior to marriage, though there may be some warning signs.
These facts have been recognised by the 2005 legislation, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Since there is widespread ignorance of this legislation, Eina had the Act printed on the palla and pleats of two sarees used in this show. She also created many large, 'unwearable' pieces of jewellery for the show, making strong statements: One is a large placard across the chest, saying 'Violators are subject to arrest', and a round, 'No Entry' sign at the level of the pelvis, saying No Entry Unless Authorised. She has also made a huge necklace from lava rocks and a skull, as a subversive version of the traditional mangalsutra, symbolizing the fact that any mistreatment of the woman can invoke the Goddess Kali within her.
Many women in the audience were very moved by this show. What was interesting was that several men have ordered the Wedding Vows collection for their wives!
Of course, violence has not been the only source of inspiration for this remarkable young woman. Her other collections- Containment, Forgotten Jewel, Byzantine, Rose Window, among others, speak of a deeply committed, thoughtful, soul searching creativity. I am truly privileged to know Eina.
Photographs courtesy Eina Ahluwalia