Jewellery designer Suhani Pittie is a voracious reader. She hasn’t missed an edition of Time magazine in 12 years. Anything current, anything topical, and she’s already read a little about it. But there is one topic that has been recurring in most of what she’s read over the past few years: the global crisis of human displacement. The varying points of view on this humanitarian issue have made a huge impact on her, given that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data states that by the end of 2015, 65.3 million people worldwide had been forcibly displaced. The stories, she says, haunted her and led her to think, “What if their story was my story?"

She channelled this preoccupation into a jewellery line called Nowhere People, which speaks of her pain and angst. The line contains ring-cum-arm guards, huge neck pieces with shoulder belts, jagged and angular body shields, wired shoulder plates, and armhole bands, all made of recycled or chipped wood in metallic shades, copper and Perspex. It was shown at the Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2016, held last month in Mumbai.

“I’m in a place of privilege where, without using words, I can say a lot and create a dialogue via my craft," says Pittie. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Tell us about the materials, colours and tones that you’ve used for ‘Nowhere People’. How do they speak about displacement?

I see Nowhere People as a humble attempt to cover a whole range of emotions of the refugee. From being stifled and bound in homes to seeing the destruction of one’s own surroundings and yourself. From helplessness because of being lost and unnamed to not belonging within or outside any boundaries.

All the techniques and materials try to show destruction and pain while keeping a sense of sensitivity and the beauty of jewellery intact. Some techniques like fire-scaling and fretwork are physically and emotionally metaphorical: Fire-scaling is intentional oxidation, and fretwork is metal work that looks corroded. I interpret these as the feelings of the displaced. Even the materials used, whether wood or copper, were fragmented, chipped and even recycled—a metaphor to show the withering of life, recycling of memories and then carrying on.

Fashion, for me, is a platform that’s very rooted. This show was no less. There is a meaning and a depth that I try for my audience to feel. The response to this show was overwhelming. People told me that the show helped them see the crisis in a new light. To me, that is everything.

How can a jewellery show convey the complexity of being a refugee?

If you noticed, the models were bandaged and shackled. I’ve also interpreted bullet marks on the jewellery. Then there’s the backpack, the plastered or the fractured hand, the breaking and chipped wood representing breaking homes, the life jacket, the runaway money pouch. All these were symbolically and subtly shown in the jewellery. In a lot of places, the pieces were breaking off, peeling off as if disintegrating. This show was by far emotionally the toughest one I’ve done. I feel a lot of pain for the subject and my only wish was to translate that pain and helplessness into the presentation.

What sort of research did you do for this collection? Did any specific books, articles or documentaries inspire you?

There was no one single piece of research or one single book. Every time I’ve read about the problem of displacement, there were so many differing points of view towards it. So many people have unvalidated and unsubstantiated verdicts. So, for me, this pain was daily. And the way I work is that a story becomes me. There’s a line from the British-Somalian poet Warsan Shire’s poem Home that never left me:

You have to understand no one puts their child on a boat unless water is safer than land.

Nothing can hurt more than this line.

How can the jewellery from this collection be worn otherwise?

I’m very clear about my business: Everything I do needs to be lovable and buyable. I run a corporate structure, with over 100 people in the company. Everything that you see on the runway can be worn singularly over whatever you feel like. But I promise you, the feeling of the story that inspired the collection will not leave you. And that’s the intention, the purpose. I want people to feel the pain. Who says fashion has to be meaningless? It is such a powerful dialogue.

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