I am at a book signing session, where author Padma Lakshmi is busy signing copies of her latest book. An elegant woman enters and presents her with an intricately folded book sculpture of the author’s bestselling autobiography. What could be a greater tribute and a better gift for an author? It turns out, that the presenter of this rare gift, Banoo Batliboi, is the book artist who has folded the book page by page and created a sculptural wonder.
Not everyone imagines books as raw material for sculptures. Well, it takes the eye (and hand!) of an artist to do that. Batliboi, a ‘bibliomorphist’ to put it in her own words, (as she changes the form of the book), passionately crafts books into exquisite book sculptures, opening windows to looking at them in a way they have never been seen before.
The story began many years ago, when she chanced upon a folded book that someone had found in Italy. She never looked at a book in the same way after that! Always fond of crafting things with her hands, it did not take long for her to delve into this fascinating world. The incident triggered something deep within and led her to explore the realm of book art, and focus on creating book sculptures, one fold at a time. “I began with experimenting just for myself and allowed myself to freely explore how I could use old books as a raw material to create something different. I gifted many of the successful experiments to my friends and learnt something from the unsuccessful ones,” she explains. Over time, she has developed her own techniques and created many original designs.
The magic begins with book sourcing- generally stores on pavements, second hand bookshops or local ‘raddiwalas’. “I like books with old yellowed or ivory pages. A hard spine and good cover also helps. The paper quality matters, since the technique relies on folding all the pages. There is no cutting or sticking involved,” she states.
She then plots and calculates the series of folds, based on the final design she has in mind. This is a process that is as intuitive, as it is scientific. A single book sculpture could take over several hours or days, depending on the intricacies involved. Irrespective of the time taken, lot of concentration and discipline is needed!
Her book sculptures have received great reviews and have been very popular for gifting as well. “People like to commission books that are in some way meaningful to them, to be converted into book sculptures,” she says.
The love for experimenting with the form of books has opened another window of exploration. “I am now more interested in the abstract photos that I create out of my folded books. I call the series “Unreal Portraits of Books”,” she reveals, hinting at the direction that her practice is now bound to take in the future.
Art is perhaps one of the ways to preserve books for posterity. As she folds away pages of books, transforming them into objets d’art, this fact has never seemed truer!