‘Page turner’ — that’s a word often used to describe a really good book. It’s an adjective that can be used — rather literally — to describe paper artist Banoo Batliboi’s work as well. Banoo is well known for her ‘book sculptures’, formed by folding and refolding pages of books into intricate, symmetrical patterns so that they are transformed into something other-worldly.
Banoo’s initiation into book sculpting was almost incidental. At a friend’s home, she saw a unique sculpture that had been created by simply folding the pages of a book. She immediately realised that this was a craft she wanted to explore as well. Ask her why the design appealed to her, and Banoo replies, “A book is a very familiar object to us all and it mostly conforms to a particular shape. I liked the fact that this book was ‘behaving’ in a totally unexpected way and creating within the viewer a feeling of surprise and curiosity!”
Back home, Banoo plunged into learning the book sculpting process by herself, trying out different methods until she was satisfied with the result. Of course, the kind of work that she does requires a tremendous amount of patience, persistence, precision and the ability to visualise forms in paper. But Banoo is clearly well suited to the task. “I like to ‘think’ with my hands — figuring things out by doing,” she explains. “And as I kept working, I demanded greater precision from myself and I imagine, developed a greater finesse.”
While the actual process of creating her sculptures does require putting in long hours, surprisingly, Banoo tells us that it is the visualisation and conceptualisation that actually is most time-consuming. “Well, it’s basically a logical exercise: How can I find a formula that will result in a particular visual structure? So the most painstaking part of creating a sculpture is the conceptualisation — the part before I even make my first fold. Some ideas never work out, some lie in limbo for weeks before I can figure it out. And a few of them make it through! So the actual folding is just the mechanical part of it and takes many hours of disciplined and focused attention,” Banoo says.
A question Banoo is often asked is about having any apprehensions regarding altering the form of books — considered sacred in Indian culture. She has said that she views books as one medium of delivering a particular narrative; as long as the narrative is carried forward in other forms, using one rather ignored book to create her sculptures is not destructive in any way. Indeed, Banoo makes it a point to accord the utmost respect to the discarded books she gives a second lease of life to: She never cuts up any of the books/pages, never uses paste or glue. Banoo calls this a “self imposed restraint”, one that’s important to her “to maintain the integrity of the book”.
“I find it exciting to create a radical transformation in the form of the book by so little intervention — just by using my hands,” she says. The books that Banoo works with have often been found at raddiwallas and within the dark forgotten corners of warehouses. And each book comes with its own little bit of serendipity.
“For me, my sculptures are as much about the book itself as it is about my intervention,” says Banoo. “Each old book carries with it the marks of its own personal history: Scuffs on the cover, loving inscriptions on the first page. Sometimes what falls out of the book is a letter, a ticket or a shopping list that gives you a wonderful sense of the life this book must have led before it came into your hands.”
She adds that exploring the inherent visual and tactile qualities of a book is something she finds deeply enjoyable: “The colour and design of the cover. The ivory of the pages and the contrast of the printer’s ink. The suppleness of the leaves that allow the metamorphosis to take place... I enjoy challenging the viewer’s perception from what they know this common object to be — and seeing what it has now become.”...