She was scavenging through the quaint bazaars of Hyderabad, when a chance encounter with an old lady, changed the course of her life. “She was selling her old jewellery to buy the new jewellery. I asked her not to melt her exquisite and rare handmade pieces but she had no interest in them so I bought them,” recollects Swapna Sahni Mehta, who is now identified as an artiste who creates distinct pieces which are seeped in traditional history and yet are contemporary enough. She experiments with multiple genres be it tribal, art deco, deccan or, even from the Chettinad region. But playing with baubles alone is not what defines this elegant lady, who is equally passionate about textiles and handlooms.
For those who reside outside the Nizam’s city, Swapna dabbled with designing clothes until a few years ago. But she is candid enough to admit, “I always liked doing my clothes but was never a commercial success especially because at that time chiffons, georgettes and other similar fabrics were more acceptable than Khadi and handlooms unlike today. I was an accidental clothing designer I think.”
Moving forward, having discovered a new found obsession for trinkets with delicate craftsmanship, Swapna has found a way to restore these delicate pieces of jewellery. “They could be old gems and pearls from a bygone era and no matter how badly damaged they are, I will use it. For me, it is a piece of history, which, much like an old woven textile, cannot be compared to the machine-made products of today. The process is quite simple. I stitch the pieces together with a thread, and then my karigar and goldsmith replicate the same flow with a gold wire. I also believe that the slight damage is not a sign of imperfection but has a story which adds to the beauty of my bespoke designs. There can never be a second piece and that makes it even more special,” says the gentle and attractive designer with impeccable taste. Swapna’s creative energies extend to art and architecture, “I have never had any formal education in that field,” she reveals, adding, “In June, I have an exhibition in London hosted by Art Maven and collector Czaee Shah at the prestigious Francesca Gallonway Gallery. This will be followed by a showing in September in Dubai.”
A chance encounter with Sri Lankan architect C. Anjalendran, led to a three-year-long apprenticeship, where Swapna was introduced to the works of legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa amongst others. Soon, she found herself curating Sri Lankan artworks for private residences, and later into her other creative endeavours. “I am a big fan of Geoffrey Bawa, Le Corbusier and Zaha Hadid. I have immense respect for artistes, tribal and rural weavers and artisans.
In some way or the other, all these influences have shaped my work,” she adds.
Swapna sources her unique pieces from all over the country and from various ethnicities and tribes. “Travel is what inspires and keeps me going. I love Morocco and Turkey and Central Asia,” adds the mother of two girls, who is blessed to have, “a supportive husband, mom and mother-in-law. It’s not a perfect situation, but we all manage,” she says with disarming candour.