The new, friendly ivory

The most prized and “blessed" statues available to buy in Vatican City are made of ivory. In China, ivory factories are growing in number; shiny white ivory boutiques are the Tiffanys of China. Despite trade agreements and laws, the ivory trade is flourishing, says a report published in April by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (

The report nails China as the villain of today’s ivory trade market and details the illegal trade routes and the butchering that continues in the forests of Africa.

At home, The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, bans ivory trade, though the demand for ivory—the luxury of the affluent Indian—continues. After the ban, many artisans, an estimated 300,000 in Jodhpur alone, began using camel bones and other animal bones and teeth to fake the ivory effect on artefacts and large-scale sculptures and artworks.

A piece called ‘The Declaration of Victory’

Her initiative, Whitenife, is working with the Union ministry of environment and forests and the non-profit Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) for the use of this material.

Rupa Gandhi, chief marketing officer, WTI, succintly spells out the relevance of this collection: “This is a good alternative to those craftsmen who are working on bone or sourcing ivory, which is illegal. In getting them to use Elfh, we are promoting their art, which would be dead due to enforcement of the ivory ban, and ensuring they get a decent livelihood."

A painting by Suvigya Sharma
A painting by Suvigya Sharma

“Elfh by itself has no value. And it is quite inflexible in application; you can’t burn it or mould it, but artisans say it is wonderful for detailed carving," 22-year-old Agarwal says. She works with 60 artisans from Orissa and Rajasthan for the initiative. Mumbai-based artist Suvigya Sharma has created a series of paintings using Elfh for her first collection. Agarwal, who is a designer as well, fuses traditional motifs used in ivory carving with modern forms and shapes for her lifestyle products and artworks.

The colour of Elfh is cream with a matt finish, and the lines are sharp and deep enough for intricate patterns. The Whitenife collection has paintings, candle stands, home products and a range of sculptural jewellery. “This first collection is to show what is possible," says Agarwal. Prices range from around 4,000 to 3 lakh. A product that costs 4,000 in this collection could be as much as 45,000 in ivory. Whitenife now operates through its website and has the option of letting patrons offer their own designs in a particular product they wish to buy.

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