"Whenever Aaradhana (Jhunjhunwala) would visit my house, I would check her out from head to toe... I will ask her yeh necklace kahan se liya (where did you buy this necklace from?), yeh bracelet kahan se liya, yeh bangle kahan se liya. Almost each time, she would say, ‘I made it myself’. And I used to love this one bangle she used to wear. Then I would be like, ‘make a bangle for me na’.”
I can hear artist Anjum Singh giggle as she talks about her relationship with Jhunjhunwala, a close friend of over 30 years, while applauding her skills as a product designer and complaining about never getting that bangle. It’s a 12-minute audio clip, full of laughter and introspection—featuring both Singh and Jhunjhunwala—from 15 August last year. They are discussing that long phone call in 2018 that seeded the idea of their jewellery project, why they decided that sale proceeds from the project would go to a charity for children fighting cancer, and how the process of turning Singh’s art into brooches and bracelets resulted in many “yeses” and more “noes” that eventually brought them closer.
The 2020 launch didn’t happen—Singh’s health started deteriorating and on 17 November, she lost the six-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. “We were supposed to do a collection every year and collaborate with artists and designers. But I will make it happen,” Jhunjhunwala, a self-taught jewellery designer, tells me over the phone on 12 April, a day ahead of the launch of the project, A2O2 (A2 for Anjum and Aaradhana and O2 for oxygen).
It’s a collection of 40 wearable objets d’art in silver, with gold and rhodium plating set with semi-precious stones—all inspired by what happened to be Singh’s last show, I Am Still Here, at Delhi’s Talwar Gallery in 2019, depicting her battle with cancer. Jhunjhunwala picked 13 April, for it marked the festivals of Baisakhi, Gudi Padwa and Ugadi. “Her father is Sikh and her mother, Bengali. The New Year brings a renewed sense of hope and we wanted the project to be about celebrating life.” Proceeds from the sale will go to CanKids, which works with children suffering from cancer.
From the beginning
The project idea started as a “random thought”, Singh says in the clip. She was in New York in 2018, waiting for doctors’ appointments, when she realised how “lucky I was my family could afford the best treatment possible and that many parents can’t do that. I mean, it wasn’t that I was the first one to think of it but the combined context instantly hit me.” That’s when she called Kolkata-based Jhunjhunwala, who works on projects with craft clusters, to discuss her idea of making jewellery for charity. Jhunjhunwala agreed instantly to help but tells Singh in the clip that it was a “very, very scary proposition”.
Jhunjhunwala wasn’t sure how she would translate Singh’s artwork into jewellery. Would she be able to do justice? “I remember I was boarding a flight and I called Anjum and told her, ‘You have five minutes, send me something now.’ She sent me whatever she had in her book, and I got it. I was looking at small pieces of sculpture, wearable sculpture, unique sculpture,” recalls Jhunjhunwala. Each creation has a pop of colour, mostly maroon, the favourite colour of both As.
Stain (watercolour and graphite on paper), for instance, has become the Star Shining silver brooch with a ruby. High Voltage Keep Away (water-colour pencil on paper) is a heart-shaped silver bracelet, and Still Against White (oil on canvas) The White Hill silver brooch with red beads. “The colour is for the light that Anjum always saw. Our idea was that no matter how bleak the present is, there’s always something to find joy in,” says Jhunjhunwala.
“We want the wearer to know that somewhere, a family is thankful for them wearing that piece of jewellery. While figuring out the charity work initially, we met an oncologist who said something very profound, ‘For cancer, ₹1,000 is a lot and ₹2 crore is very less.’”
When I ask Jhunjhunwala about her favourite piece, she calls the silver Soul pendant/brooch with black stones a “more favourite one”. Why a black soul, I ask. She shows the artwork that inspired the design: a white-crimson red flower emerging from a black void.
Finally, I ask Jhunjhunwala if she ever made that bangle for Singh. She did.