Sri Lankan Kali Arulpragasam has vague memories of the country she and her family fled when she was 10 years old. She recalls temples, turtles running between her feet and the jungle behind her grandfather's house with its wild peacocks. But when the 33-year-old jewelry designer speaks of Sri Lanka in London, where she now lives and has a studio, "People think of the war: of the rebels, of rubble, of sufferers and victims."
In her latest jewelry collection a series of very large neckpieces entitled Terrorism Affects Tourism Arulpragasam seeks to remind us of the underlying beauty of countries that have been marred by violence. Formerly a creative director at an ad agency, she treats each nation as a brand with an image problem. A neckpiece of Iraq shows not troops but fruit, a mosque and the tower at Samarra, while one for Sudan shows a cluster of pyramids and a herder leading cattle instead of images of hunger. The neckpiece inspired by Arulpragasam's native Sri Lanka sports no Tamil Tigers but a boat, palms and a peacock like the sort she remembers.
Sister to the politically edgy rapper, M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasam), Kali has centered past collections on social or environmental messages. In one, silver "ear covers" patterned with Indian-inspired motifs make a point about the subcontinent's caste system, which she believes is maintained because "everyone tries not to hear suffering." In Endangered Species, she mounted miniature silver heads of threatened animals on three-fingered rings resembling knuckle-dusters.
Arulpragasam's oversized neckpieces eschew the use of precious stones and there's a message behind that, too. "A diamond is always going to be precious," she says. "But what is precious? It's just an element from the earth. To me these countries and these people that we are destroying ... that is the true preciousness of the world." Arulpragasam's jewelry can be ordered from her studio, Super Fertile, tel: (44-20) 7923 1315, www.superfertile.com.
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