Passing through the lobby of the Four Seasons, an intriguing display of objects caught my eye. What were they? As I came closer, it became obvious that they were books, the pages folded to create exquisite geometrical designs. Fanning out from the spine of the book, their sculptures qualities were evident. Banoo Batliboi introduced herself as a self-taught paper artist who lives and works in Mumbai. For the past three years she has been working in the field of ‘altered book art’.
‘I first saw a book sculpture made out of a paperback in a friend’s house about 10 years back. It had simple folds, but I was fascinated and started experimenting on my own,’ says Banoo. ‘My first attempt at «book sculpture» ended up as a gift for my brother. On the internet, I found some images on altered book art. So I experimented again and gave more gifts to friends. By this time, my son had helped me to set up a website,’ she adds.
‘Initially, my raw materials — the books — were sourced from «raddiwallahs». I looked for old abandoned books with attractive physical qualities and strong bindings.’ It took a long time for Banoo to figure out the intricacies of this art. Many hours of dedicated folding. ‘Everything I make is not sold. But each exercise takes me somewhere. Commerce is just a part of it,’ she says.
In a culture where books are revered because they represent knowledge, is this art seen as a desecration? ‘We have all been brought up to respect books…not to use our feet to touch them. In fact, some people have asked me whether I feel bad doing this to a book,’ says Banoo. But knowledge now has become digitalized and books are no longer the only conduit of knowledge. ‘I see a book as a container of a narrative. My sculpture is not using the last copy of this particular book and it is likely that the content exists in other places and in other forms. Therefore I don’t feel that I am destroying its content. However, I don’t use religious books — I’m sensitive to that.’
People don’t save every book that they buy and read. Several are thrown out and they have to go somewhere. Many end up in landfills. So when I use them as raw material, re-imagine them, they get a new life,’ says Banoo.
The Basic Series.
These book sculptures are made from well- used, abandoned books that were destined to be recycled. Each book has served for many years in its conventional form as a vehicle for narrative ideas, and each bears the marks of its own history. Now, by shifting focus to the tactile and visual qualities of the book, an alternative interpretation is imagined.
Through a process of careful folding — and without any cutting or pasting — the book takes on a changed form, with the original text becoming a texture. This scrambling of the formal arrangement of the book creates a perceptual tug-of- war between what we know the object is and what it has become.
The sculptures are as much about the whole process as they are about the final form: ‘these books were conceived, born, loved, stored, discarded, then found anew, studied, folded and reborn.’
The Plush Series.
For the Plush Series of book sculptures the artist uses volumes from the Franklin Library Series. These books were a serendipitous find. They had been lying forgotten, in a dark corner of a voluminous warehouse for 30 years. The handsome books are bound in real leather and have a distinctive cover design embossed in 22k gold. The spine is hubbed with raised horizontal ridges formed in the leather. There are marbled endpapers with a sewn-in matching satin bookmark. The pages are gold gilded to protect against dust and moisture and the paper used is acid neutral to last generations without discoloring. These books are highly collectible and truly exemplify the best of the bookbinder’s craft.
These gracious old books are reconfigured through a precise series of folds into an intriguing sculpture that celebrates its re-imagined form. The book sculpture is presented on a black, reflective base with a clear protective cover, creating a quirky transformation of a familiar and well-loved object.