23 Sep
A Q&A with jewelry designer/humanitarian Kali Arulpragasam


Kali Arulpragasam is a UK-based jewelry designer and creative force behind the avant garde line SUPERFERTILE. Her controversial, often violence-plagued work — which includes jewelry emulations of gunshot wounds, slashed flesh and head trauma — has been heavily influenced by issues involving environmental decay, geopolitics and human rights. Much like the work of her little sister Maya (better known to the world as M.I.A.), the designer’s own background may have been the catalyst for her creative take on the injustices around the world. Her family famously fled the civil war in Sri Lanka in the 1980’s, and eventually settling in London as refugees. We spoke with Kali about her newest collection (entitled Murder), her past work, and the inspiration behind her craft. She also sets the record straight about her family’s connection to the Tamil Tigers, and informs us of the individuals she highly regards for their work in fighting inhumanity, financial excess and social injustices. Read on for the interview…

Your last collection CRA$H dealt with the worldwide financial collapse of 2008, and you played on that with over-the-top “bling”. How is it that you initially decided to incorporate the most luxurious of items — jewelry and rare gems — and twist it into a message-making device?
This is the first time I used precious stones. As I designed the collection, and did research into genocides and war crimes, I felt a strong need to make this message of humanity and peace last. Wars are dated, they seem like they don’t belong in our world anymore; destruction and chaos of Wars are not creative, not intelligent and not civilized. So, it’s something that we picked up from Homo erectus time, passed down from generations to generations. Human beings solve problems; we can be kind. To destroy everything that was created for thousands of years for a 10-year rule? That’s just animalistic. Pure barbarism. War is criminal. We the people finance the crimes our leaders commit. This collection is for the people who were de-humanized and killed in the name of wars. I’d like to value the lives that were lost in horror. These jewels are symbol of the peace. We need to say no to wars. Just like you value my jewels, we need to value what is right. Let’s stop the violence and punish those who murder.

Continue reading the Q&A with Kali, plus a bonus gallery of pics from “Murder”, after the Jump…

“I wanted to dedicate this collection to those Tamil civilians brutally murdered in the last months of the end of the war. This collection is for valuing their lives.”

It’s one thing to say war is dated and antiquated, and a leftover product from Homo erectus, but how do you explain the behavior of people who wage wars simply for profit? It seems optimistic bordering on naive to believe that it is sort of pre-human behavior. Do you see a realistic end to it?
I think we who elect these leaders, in belief they know better and do better, need to work towards a peaceful world. It’s up to us to say no collectively. People have a lot of power to do that, we have more control on the government’s decisions on war then them. In the end, they are working for us. I know that there are other ways to solve problems. Killing civilians and destroying countries just seems a waste. I do think peace is possible. We have seen the people overthrow long dictatorships and governments via peaceful protests. We can overthrow the corruption and the people who have been making money by wars. We have to all agree and say, “Enough is Enough.” We are more connected, informed, outspoken. Our voices can be heard worldwide. We are in a better position than 100 years ago. We see corruptions of police, media, governments all coming down like dominos. All the people have to do is say no. Don’t vote for leaders unless they can bring a peaceful approach to solving problems. Don’t pay taxes if you feel your money is supporting corruption and violence or war crimes. Don’t send your kids to war. What are they going to do? Put the entire country in jail? This world belongs to all of us. We all take an equal amount of space to exist. We are part of this chaos. We can make it right. We can start by realizing the governments and leaders authorities are chosen to work for us.

You mention concentration camps as your main inspiration for producing the collection, but did your family’s history with Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan oppression play a role?
My family had no connections with the Tamil Tigers. It’s good that we are finally clearing it up. My father belonged to a group called the EROS [Ealem Revolutionary Organization of Students], but they were a bunch of educated Tamil men, who wanted to give some rights back to the Tamils. But Tamil Tigers took over and my family had nothing to do with that. The last 30% of the population were cornered, killed and tortured in the last few months of war in 2009, or put in camps without basic needs afraid for their lives. I was witnessing this on the news, but the rest of the world leaders, peace talkers, press and organizations like the UN ignored it. I wanted to dedicate this collection to those Tamil civilians brutally murdered in the last months of the end of the war. This collection is for valuing their lives. I knew what was going on and felt helpless so it was very important to me. As I shot the lookbook and released each image one by one, Channel 4 aired a documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields by the brave John Snow, which was evidence to back up what I was creating. I don’t wish what happened to the Tamil Sri Lankan’s to happen to any other nation. It’s just horrific, and sweeping these War crimes under the carpet now will give others ideas on how to get away with mass murder. In this case, just deny everything and laugh it off. As we see, that’s pretty effective with the UN.

Pieces of jewelry from Kali’s “CRA$H” collection, addressing the events surrounding the stock market crash in 2008, including the bank rescue, unemployment for millions and the loss of pensions and healthcare.

Obviously there’s a lot misinformation out there about who your father allegedly was or was aligned with, so thanks for clearing that up. The rumors and speculation have even caused your sister Visa issues, which has been well documented as well. So how many hours did you put into making each piece from this collection? Can you give us a bit of insight into the craftsmanship that go into these pieces?
This collection sat in my brain since last year. I wanted to do a violence collection, and it took a while to find the time and funds to produce it. As I don’t have supporters or investors or banks, I wanted to make this a precious stones collection. I wanted to show the world how SUPERFERTILE would tackle precious stones. And bring awareness to an ugly frightening topic as genocide and war crimes and of human rights issues that are being ignored. The designs are done in a day or two. It’s the final image in my lookbook that I work from the start. Everything is envisioned to the final detail. There are no experimentations or compromises when I set out to bring these final images to you. I research the topic for months, before, during and after the designs.

I take my designs to the production [facilities] I see fit to bring my designs to life. For Murder, I went to Thailand. I’m usually in a taxi, visiting all the production-jewelry workshops. I keep the meter running — if it’s not ethical, I drive on. I look for skills and materials, usually from the oldest and most worn out places. I like back streets, small businesses, usually a small team of husband and wife with a quiet existence. Then SUPERFERTILE walks in. It all turns upside down. I drag them to modern design, kicking and screaming, but they thank me for it when they see the end product. It benefits both of us. So, I’m kind of giving the opportunities to people who are unknown, forgotten or need my help. The genuine need for one another creates respect. I respect the old techniques. They respect my difficult but thoughtful contemporary designs, so we excite and challenge each other.

When the production starts, the magic starts, seeing my 2D designs become 3D. I oversee everything, so I tend to hang around in hotels from the time I hand over the designs to receiving the completed jewels. It took about 3 months for this collection. As most were completed I came back and put together my models/photographer and began shooting as they arrived. So with everything time and money is crucial. But I allow time for production, which I learned with experience. If you don’t allow time with jewels, they won’t last. It’s like being pregnant. The longer the baby is in production, the better chance it has at survival outside.

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“The collection that came from me is a child that was consumed by force. It’s a baby I love, but I’d like to forget the father of the child…”

Do the jewels have any particular meaning to you, or were they chosen for their aesthetic qualities?
They all have special meaning to me, because I am affected by the issues in some way. They mean something to me; they come from the frustrations of the betrayal of trust. Living in a global system that exploits the poor, destroys their resources, corrupts the good, and keeps us repressed. Every collection I do is a reminder of what I witnessed and how I felt about it. It’s my way of confronting the crises that are more often neglected, covered up or accepted. Murder, economic crisis, hunger, wars; all these are personal and important to me. The aesthetic side is something that comes after a problem penetrates me by force. The collection that came from me is a child that was consumed by force. So, it’s a baby I love but I’d like to forget the father of the child.

Who are some individuals, dead or alive, that you regard highly for fighting against inhumanity, financial excess or social injustices?
I admire the heroes who fight for democracy, independence and human rights in a peaceful manner. Sacrificing their basic needs for the well being of others. Their need to make this world a better place for others is what drives them, not fame, money, luxurious lifestyles, trophies or high positions. My heroes are Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Shirin Ebadi. I particularly admire them for their courage because they suffered a great deal, as the system, their oppressors didn’t make it easy for them. It’s inspiring to see what powers one human, unarmed and with very little can do for an entire country. Recently I love Channel 4 and their reporter John Snow for going into Sri Lanka and lifting the carpet to reveal the ugly truths about SL war crimes, forcing other world governments, UN and all Human Rights Organizations to take action and do their job properly.

Kali thanks so much for taking the time to spend with us thoughtfully. It was an honor. One last question we ask of everybody: if you were lost in a supermarket, in what aisle would we find you in?
Newspaper and magazines. My food is information.

 The National Federal Debt pendant, originally designed for Gucci Mane… OK, not really…

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