Promoting Rich Cultural Heritage with Jewellery

Prior to starting up Zola,, Gina Joseph was a media professional with over 7 years of experience spanning across advertising and journalism. With no prior jewellery design training or experience, Gina started with her first Dhokra workshop in 2014 and there has been no looking back since. Zola is a culmination of Gina Joseph’s passions and creative ideas about jewellery. It draws from her many inspirations and appreciation of art, architecture and culture of India; the vibrant colours, textures, rich cultural heritage and folklore, fine workmanship and seamless Indian beauty.

How did Zola happen? Please share your journey.

I did my graduation in Visual Communication 10 years ago from Loyola in Chennai. I started off my career in advertising and then I was a journalist for about 5 years and then was part of the corporate world for 2 years and always been an appreciator of art. I did not have any specific training in jewellery design; it was more of a hidden passion that surfaced at the right time in my life. I think the literature is very important when you venture into anything creative.

I took a break from work and did an Arts Management program from Dakshinachitra in Chennai; before that I had a peripheral knowledge about art. I appreciated art but did not the fine details about a painting or sculpture. So, while doing this program, as part of my Indian art project I created my first three pieces of jewellery. I was very fascinated by the temple women in Indian sculpture, that is the salabanjikas (tree huggers), madanikas and yakshis (goddesses of fertility) so I got them carved in wood and put it together with semi precious stones. The concept was ‘to wear a piece of history on you’.

Zola, in Italian means a piece of earth. Inspired by the art, architecture and culture of India, I fuelled it with my passion for jewellery designing and worked towards a collection along with the wood carvers of Raghurajpur in Odisha. As the name goes, Zola draws from the colours and textures from elements of the earth and the first line of necklaces were inspired by the women in Indian temple architecture. It was exciting to create these uniquely styled and artistically beautiful necklaces for my Indian Art project and I wanted to explore further. As a result, Zola was born. I have always believed that jewellery is one of the most powerful vehicles of self expression and celebration of your personal style. Jewellery in India has always fascinated me and the tales from its rich cultural heritage and folklore , from colors, from emotions, from passion , from fine workmanship , from seamless Indian beauty was what I wanted to explore with Zola.

Where do you find inspiration for your art?

If not for what I had been exposed to in my Indian art, western art, temple architecture, crafts and rural arts of India and cultural studies classes I wouldn’t have been able to start Zola and make it what it is today. I read as much as I can about everything and anything and I get my inspiration from many places and people. Conversations and interesting visuals inspire me.

Zola is about celebrating the art of being a woman. Inspired by the Yakshis, Madanikas and Salabanjikas of Indian art and architecture, Zola aims to break the present day culture fixated on certain ideas of ‘beauty’ and make women less vulnerable to outside approval and more confident in their own skin. A woman who celebrates her uniqueness, freedom, sensuality and individuality is the Zola woman.

What are the challenges you faced?

It’s been two years since I started Zola and the journey has been very exciting with its share of ups and downs. There are a lot of challenges one faces while working with the artisan community and the relationship is always based on trust which we have built together over time.

The jewellery sector is a very competitive one and to make a mark for myself and build Zola as a strong brand will take time. When I started Zola, there was no mantra that I had planned out, I just focused on giving it my 100 percent and bringing in rural crafts into jewellery design was a new concept which got people interested. To keep my Zola wearers interested for more, I keep exploring new arts and crafts and see how can give it a new lease of life in the form of jewellery. After all it’s more fun to wear a piece of art on you than hanging it on the walls of your house 🙂

Working with rural crafts like Leather puppetry and Patachitra has made me realize how important it is to preserve culture and heritage and this will happen only if we provide employment opportunities for these craftsmen. I work on a social entrepreneurship model and when I conduct workshops, work on new collections, I make sure that the style of art is not tampered with. I let the artist/craftsman do what he is comfortable with, only the form changes, in my case they become pretty jewellery with a story.

I work with a lot of women artisans in Orissa and we have a very open communication on the techniques and design. It more of a collaborative effort when we design. This encourages them to push themselves and voice out their ideas. When our ideas are made into a finished, it is immensely satisfying for all of us 🙂

Giving these artisans grants and funds is like putting a band aid on the issues and not a solution, so it is very important to educate the public about crafts and arts of our country.

Coming back to your workshop with NutSpace, how was the experience? Was it what you were expecting?

I enjoyed every moment of my time at Nutspace. It was a completely different experience for me, working with children and telling them about our country’s crafts and rich cultural heritage. That is one of the main reasons I do what I do with Zola, to educate and inspire people about the lost crafts and folklore of our country. It was better than what I had expected and the children’s enthusiasm only made the experience richer for me.

Any instance, question or observation that stood out or surprised you?

What was interesting was the enthusiasm from the children to know more and more about the subjects that were discussed and associating them with their travels or something they had seen somewhere. The curiosity is what drives anyone, child or adult and the excitement to do something different that hasn’t been done before and to think outside the box ( eg in case of the Worli art exercise where they had to paint with just white and black and were amused to draw a black sun or white grass).

What is your take on stories and storytelling?

I think we are all made up of stories and that’s what makes us who we are, so we better make it interesting! I think what NutSapace is doing is really good, in terms of just connecting children to the lost art of storytelling and engaging them in ways that will make the more sensitive, creative and interesting individuals.

Any advice for our talented dreamers?

Just never stop dreaming and be curious. The most interesting people in the world are not the most educated ones but the ones who are most curious, who are inspired by everything around them. Travel as much as you can, that’s the best way to educate yourself about the world, people, cultures, history and also you learn something new every time about your own self.

…and their parents?

Children are not taught the cultural history in schools and only the political history is focused upon, which is sad because the child has no clue about the rich cultural wealth of his/ her country when he grows up. Preservation is not just the job of art museums or organizations, it starts from the very grassroots, in your own homes by educating yourself and your children about it.

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Rohini Vij

Rohini is a professional storyteller, educator, listed & certified Jolly Phonics UK trainer, curriculum developer, parenting coach, founder of NutSpace. She is on a mission to raise readers and is actively engaged with curriculum development for schools and her own ed-tech platform - Nutspace Edtech.

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