Sutopa Parrab is a Sydney based architect turned artist. Originally trained as an architect, she worked for several years in Canada and Australia in this role before committing herself to jewellery design.
The transition to professional jewellery design has been a relatively recent one for Sutopa and she currently has studios located in Sydney (Australia), Shantiniketan (India) and Jaipur (India). Over the years, Sutopa has expanded her education to encompass training in silver-smithing, glass-bead-making, ceramics, painting and sculpture, all of which continue to inform and play an integral role in her compositions and designs.
She reinterprets traditional tribal jewellery in contemporary idiom whereby traditional designs and techniques are reconfigured to offer new meaning and expressions. Her fascination with tribal forms and ethnic styles is a culmination of years of travel within and outside India. Passionate about travel, Sutopa collects ideas and raw materials from various cultures around the world and weaves the elements together in a style that is uniquely hers.
Sutopa works closely with various artisans from different parts of India who specialise in particular styles or techniques in an attempt to revive some of the ancient techniques that are in danger of dying out. She also encourages an active dialogue between the various artisans from different parts of India to offer them new perspectives and generate new ideas. As a result, Sutopa’s designs are a unique blend of techniques – with a crisscross of cultural styles!
For example, Sutopa freely borrows ideas from Banjara-style silver jewellery (that have their roots in villages of Rajasthan and Gujarat), to design unique beads and pendants that under her guidance are created by dokra artisans living in villages of West Bengal (“dokra” is the lost-wax metal casting technique – mainly brass — that has been used in West Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh for over 4000 years). The dokra beads and pendants are finally strung together (using various kinds of twines collected by Sutopa) in her studio by traditional “patvas” located in Rajasthan. An aspiring artisan herself, Sutopa has been learning silver-smithing techniques in Canada and Australia for over 20 years. She says “the hands-on approach gives me a better understanding of the properties and limitations of the materials I work with and the freedom to experiment”. Further adding, “I am fastidious about how each piece is finished and may spend several hours polishing a single piece just to give it a particular texture or a worn-out sheen – incessantly striving to strike a balance between primitive rawness and refined attention to detail”.
Sutopa’s exquisitely crafted pieces are no doubt a labour of love! Unusual raw materials which include fish-nets embedded with coral and dokra beads… fossils from Morocco that are thousands of years old… multi-coloured Bakelite discs from Ghana… brass ghungrus and cow-bells… beaten brass…. silver… dokra… coral… turquoise… agate… tourmaline, jasper… lava-rock beads…. carved wood… leather… feathers… and camel-bone beads… pop up in unexpected places in Sutopa’s jewellery pieces! Under the brand name tribal-chic, currently three of her collections, |ärt-wərk|, Boho and Banjara, have been exhibited in Australia and India (www.tribal-chic.com)
Being an artisan herself, Sutopa has great admiration and respect for the highly skilled artisans who play an integral role in her design practice. She is also deeply concerned that many of these artisans are not passing on their skills to the next generation and she is forever encouraging them to teach the next generation so that these art forms do not die out completely! Her respect for the artisans is reciprocated in kind – so much so, that some specialist artisans travel thousands of miles across the country to come and work with her in her studio and when struck by inspiration, it is not a rare sight to find artisans staying up all night and enthusiastically working alongside her in an electrifying spirit of camaraderie!
One of Sutopa’s other passions is travelling to “tribal areas” – in India as well as other parts of the world. She says what captivates her imagination the most during these trips “is the way the villagers casually go about their daily chores wearing outrageously spectacular clothing and gorgeous chunky jewellery, head to toe!” During her travels, Sutopa often stumbles upon opportunities to buy old tribal jewellery directly from the villagers.
As a principle that she steadfastly stands by, Sutopa offers them the fair market price for the pieces they offer her. This often takes the villagers by surprise because unfortunately they are more accustomed to getting exploited by loan-sharks and pawnbrokers, who more often than not, pay them a mere pittance. That for Sutopa “is simply not an option!” She adds, “the delight on the faces of the women when they receive a fair price compounded by their generous showering of blessings are worth far more to me than any bargain I could ever hope to strike!”