After graduating in Applied Arts from Sophia College, how long did you work as an art director in ad agencies?
I worked for about eight years and then took a break for three years when I delivered my baby. Then again I got back as a consultant for two years before starting Thought Blurb, a 360-degree branding and communication agency with my husband Vinod Kunj, eleven years ago.
The making of a neckpiece for your daughter’s dandiya (Gujarati folk dance) performance in school proved to be a turning point for you to switch to jewellery designing. Tell us more about it.
The day before my daughter’s dandiya in school I had forgotten to buy appropriate fashion jewellery, and I couldn’t find anything suitable for a six-year-old from my jewellery box. There was some carpentry work going on in my house; so I strung together a few wooden pieces, painted them, added some beads and sequins and ta-da! The jewellery was set. I took about three to four hours to complete the necklace. It was then that I realised that working with a smaller canvas is what I would like to do in the future.
Post this experience, did you take up any jewellery courses?
Subsequently, I designed a few pieces as gifts for friends and some for myself. By then I was busy balancing between the demands of a growing child and pressures of a growing business, our agency Thought Blurb. However, I did do a short-term course on jewellery manufacturing last year from the Indian Institute of Gems & Jewellery (IIGJ), Mumbai. It was important for me to understand and empower myself with the basic skills, tools and techniques.
Whatever we create, the transformation happens between the mind, heart and hand. I believe a creative person must arm herself with technical skills in order to work better – it gives you an understanding of the result of a particular action; it’s not just trial and error. It gives you the freedom to give form to an invisible idea without compromising on its essence and beauty.
So when did you finally take a plunge into the world of jewellery?
Migrating from the world of ads, films, packaging and logo designs happened gradually. An idea that was born a decade ago took shape two years ago in 2016 when I decided to bring my sensibilities of art and design into the world of jewellery and fashion. Brand Razia Kunj was born, even as our agency was up and running. My first collection was Theyyam, which entails colourful masks and imaginative costumes of the dance forms of North Kerala.
Your medium is wood. Is it easy to craft? Don’t you use silver or gold? Wood is the new gold! It’s organic and has a unique texture and natural beauty. It’s a living material that has a life even after it has been cut and shaped into another form. It’s expressive – sometimes it’s tough, sometimes it’s soft, it cracks, warps, shrinks and is sensitive to the environment. It’s flexible, I can paint and engrave and mould it into forms that have a soul!
I use a variety of combinations of wood – upcycled teak wood, neem, Indian birch – depending on the effect, dimension and result I want to achieve. Again, the combination of materials I use depends on the expression of an idea. It has to be true to the story I want to convey through my jewellery. For instance, for my Moksha collection I have used wood, brass and cotton cords. I like brass, copper and silver as these metals complement wood.
Your jewellery is handcrafted. How long does it take to create a collection?
A collection takes around four to five months to reach the prototype stage. I like living with an idea for some time and not really getting on with the execution immediately. The experience and beauty that has touched you stays subconsciously in your mind and always surfaces in a new form. During that time there is chaos in the mind. Chaos is a necessary condition for creation, as only from chaos a form evolves. I like to wait for that to develop before I put pen to paper.
Once I reach that stage then there is order and harmony in my mind I get on with extensive research, sketching and material exploration, making prototypes, etc. That’s the best part of my work. I love the process more than reaching the finished designs. Every moment spent in the construction of a piece or in developing it is a moment of happiness.
What kind of paints do you use?
I combine various mediums to paint like acrylic, inks, etc., whatever works best on the base medium and does justice to the design. I do have artists helping me, especially with the production of the pieces to keep up with the demand.
Your colourful and thematic collections are distinctly Indian and drawn from arts, architecture or mythology. Tell us more about it.
My inspiration comes from everything that exists around me. India is my muse. Every 200km, India is a new country with its own treasure trove of art and design. With my work I always seek to discover and understand different aspects of our cultural beauty and tradition. The architecture, geography, folklore, traditions, mythology, art forms… everything that represents India can be found in my designs.
My jewellery is an expression of what I feel, what I touch and what I have seen, or experienced, and the effect it has had on me. I just transform that experience into another form. I believe art is just a transformation of an ordinary experience into an extraordinary one. In that process you create something new, something beautiful. Jewellery just happens to be the medium of expression for me. That’s why more than jewellery I like to refer to it as ‘wearable art’.
Tell us about the philosophy of your brand.
My brand philosophy is quite simple – taking art from the walls of galleries and temples, from the pages of Indian folklore, from dance forms and tribal art, from architecture, rural India, and handing it to a woman as a form of adornment. A line of jewellery that is so unique, unusual and distinct from everything ever seen that stops you in your tracks and makes you wonder about how the designer ever thought of something like this.