stories to night and back.

stories to night and back.

Have you ever imagined that an entire theatre could be hiding behind the cover of a little notebook? I certainly hadn't, until one day, after carrying my grandfather's story of his exile for years, I opened a small sketchbook and began to cut out shapes and forms. When I finished the book, which was meant to be sent to the Sketchbook Project in New York, some very dear friends convinced me to publish it. With their help, collaboration and support, we set up a crowd-funding campaign to publish as small edition of the book.

 

https://vimeo.com/142656150

Crowd-funding campaign launched on Verkami in Novermber 2015 to rais funds to publish a small edition of the book

 

Although at a first view, it may seem to be a decorative paper-theatre, there is a whole history behind To Night and Back · Mece la noche, a history that I am unable to grasp completely.
In 1947, during the war that lead to the Partition of what we now know to be India and Pakistan, a large part of the Hindu community from the region of Sind - including my family - was forced into exile. This turned us into a wandering tribe, a diaspora spread across the world.

 

Photos (by Pluviam) of the published book

 

I was born in Morocco, but have roots in India, Ghana, England and now in Spain. This has allowed me to live in and learn about very different cultural traditions. The few things I know about Sind come from the way our family has tried to preserve it’s traditions and values, from the stories told to me by the elders of the community and more recently through books. 

The stories told to me by my grandparents and elders of the community were very often brief. It seemed to me while growing up, and still now, that it must be very painful for them to remember what they had to leave behind, but at the same time they cling on to whatever they can in daily details such as cooking typical dishes, insisting on speaking Sindhi, celebrating Sindhi festivals.

Over the past 5 years, on various trips to India, I have discovered wonderful publications such as Nandita Bhavnani’s The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India, Saaz Aggarwal’s Sindh - Stories from a Vanished Homeland and Sindh: Past Glory, Present Nostalgia. Though each book has a very distinct voice and style, each address the vital issue that until now it has been very difficult for Sindhi hindus to look back onto their exile and share their story.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iD8xqC8YuSc

Book trailer for Sindh - Stories from a Vanished Honeland which visually explains an overview of the history of Sind and the exile of the Hindu Sindhis.

 

Part of my bibliography while researching about my past Sindhi history. From top left (clockwise): Sindh: Stories of a Vanished Homeland by Saaz Aggarwal, The Making of an Exile by Nandita Bhavnani, Sindh: Past Glory, Present Nostalgia edited by Pratapaditya Pal and Marg magazine volume 60 dedicated to Sindhi arts.

 

I am grateful to all of these (and many other) sources who through the years have helped me put together bits and pieces of the puzzle and learn more about this “imaginary homeland”, as Salman Rushdie would say. In his essay of the same title (which can be read in it's entirety by clicking the link), he explains the notion of reconstructing imaginary identities after exile, what is lost, what is gained and how writing and memory permits humanity to reclaim its sense of loss. “It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity.” This project was born from this very wish to understand a bit better just what being a Sindhi means to me. It was a voyage and homage to the imagined land of my elders, to which I have not yet travelled physically if only through the stories they told me through my childhood.

The book is also the result of extensive research into the different narrative techniques - whether they be traditional, modern, occidental or oriental -, from all of these cultures that I have been lucky to be exposed to. These include formats such as: kalamkari, miniature painting, cut-outs and paper-theatres. Without really planning it, many different techniques I had been exposed to both as a child and as an adult seemed to find their ways into the book. For years prior to making the book, I had been fascinated with kalamkari, a hand-painted or block-printed cotton textile, produced in parts of India. Traditionally, this technique was used by storytellers, musicians and painters, called chitrakattis, who moved from village to village to tell the dwellers the great epic stories of Hindu mythology. They would illustrate while telling the stories on the spot, on large canvases using rudimentary natural materials available such as dyes extracted from plants.

The word kalamkari comes from the Persian words ghalam (pen) and kari (craftsmanship) and literally means drawing with a pen. I studied occidental textile and printing techniques at college in London, and though different, they also use the black line on paper. The drawing style used in the book is a result of this mix between occidental printing and the decorative patterns that Kalamkars use to create images.

 

Image of a craftsman hand-painting the black decorative line.

 

On the left: an image of goddess Durga Ma - the mother goddess. On the right: a decorative peacock fabric.
Three festive scenes of Lord Krishna - the god of love, the last of which shows him and all his adoring milk-maids on a swan boat. This swan boat, which is meant to symbolize the voyage through hardships towards love, is the very same seen on one of the final pages of To Night and Back · Mece la noche.

 

Another source of inspiration for the book, and for most of my work has been miniature paintings; from the ancient Persian tradition and from the Mogul period in India (between 1526 and 1648). Both visual languages share elements such as the careful composition of text and image on the page and lack of perspective. My entire book draws inspiration from the lack of perspective and plays with the superposition of cut-out layers of paper to create a sense of depth. At the end of the book there is a surprise poster that was designed using elements from miniature painting illuminated manuscripts.

 

A small selection of miniature paintings. On the top row from left the right: Indian painting of the bird god Garuda carrying Ram and Sita on his back. Indian princess from the Mogul period. Persian warriors. The bottom row consists of three Persian illuminated manuscripts.

 

A selection of Oriental Islamic miniature paintings from Diane de Sellier's edition of Le Cantique des Oiseaux by Farid pd-din 'Attâr.

 

When talking to me about Sindh, my grandfather always mentioned that before partition, the region was rich with a mix of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Persian and Sufi cultures and traditions. This is still reflected in the language, food as well as in rituals and music.

In our family home, like in the home of most Sindhi families I know, there is an image of the Sufi Saint Jhulelal. On Cheti Chand (Sindhi new year) a special offering is made to him with festive songs, lamps and flowers.This saint exists in many interwoven legends which bring together the Hindu and Islamic traditions of the region in popular folklore. 

One one hand the name refers to the community God of Sindhi people and an incarnation of Hindu God Varuna. On the other, the name also refers to Al-Khidr. In both case, the saint rides on a large Illish fish, called a Palla in Sindhi. He is said to ¨rescue and protect people in times of danger, saving the pure in heart from theft, drowning, snakes, and scorpions.¨ From an article by H. Talat Halman.

In To Night and Back · Mece la noche, to make a reference to Jhulelal, grandmother Ama rides on a Palla fish upon a lotus flower. She carries with her all that she can from her homeland.

 

From top to bottom: images of Jhulelal, Khidr and Ama.The final two images were photographed by my dear friend, Kenza Benamour, whose vision and knowledge of Sufi spiritually has helped me understand a lot about Sindhi culture through the years.

 

To enter the universe of my elders, I allowed myself to play with the use of paper and the traditional book format. Inside a simple notebook I created a theatrical landscape that changes as you turn the pages.Although there are no shadow puppets in the book, the superposition of the pages create shadows and interesting contrasts. Before making the book, I had been researching all kinds of traditional and ancient forms of paper cutting to tell stories.There are wonderful sources online such as this book about Chinese shadows that can be found at the BNF.

 

 

The blog Theatre d'ombres et de Silhouette also compiles a rich source of templates, vintage puppets, artist references, theatre scripts and stories to download.

 

Antique books about shadow puppets.

 

 

 

I attended a course about shadow puppets taught by Alexandra Eseverri from Asombras at the Casa Asia in Madrid. Though the course was brief, it introduced me the the history of shadow puppets and their different manifestations throughout Asia and Europe. I also discovered the silhouette animation movies of Lotte Reineger. After the course, I watched every one of her films and was very much influenced by her magical way of using a pair of scissors and black paper to create forms with so much life in them.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myG5Xg0NaQ4

The Magic Horse, animation by Lotte Reiniger 1953

Without really noticing, around that time, paper cutting became something of an obsession. I applied it to my illustrations as well as to the workshops I was giving. Through my work on this project, I took particular interest to paper theatres. I used the campaign launch as an excuse to indulge into this interest and create three dimensional boxes using characters and settings from the book. The boxes were made by the cardboard artist Rachid L'Moudenne. At the launch party of the campaign of To Night and Back · Mece la noche, I exhibited 5 paper theatres inspired in the universe of the book.

Paper theatres are magic. With a pair of scissors and instructions, you can transform a few printed sheets of paper into a space where stories can be narrated. Over the past years, I have become increasingly fascinated with paper theatres and other formats for storytelling such as the Kamishibai.

 

A traditional Japanese Kamishibai, fully equipped with wheels and a sound system for efficient storytelling purposes.

 

I also researched lots of paper theatre formats. Although I haven’t visited it physically in over a decade, I made lots of virtual visits to Pollock toy museum. Pollock's was originally a shop and printers, dating back to the 1850’s. Benjamin Pollock hand printed, constructed and coloured much of the toy theatre material housed in the museum today. Another source of material was Lucia Contreras Flores’ fantastic book and website Teatritos.

 

Benjamin Pollok's Toy Museum and shop in London

 

After much research, I attended Lo mío es puro teatro, a course by Gustavo Puerta Leisse and Elena Odriozola. There I began to understand how to play with the format of a toy theatre. I was very inspired by the paper theatre Elena created for the illustrations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein published by Nordica Libros.

 

Elena Odriozola’s toy theatre being photographed for the book.

 

While working the book, La escuela de papel · L'école de papier began to take form. L'école de papier, is a nomadic, ephemeral school that provides a space for playing with paper, scissors and our hands. Both projects share the same fascination for cutting paper and experimenting with it. In the book format, the superimposed cut pages permit a game of depth and surprise. In the school, different types of paper toys and traditional paper techniques are explored to propose creative workshops for children and adults.

Some of the school’s workshops given at the French Institute in Madrid include: Playing with Light: The Tales of Charles Perrault at the shadow theatre, The Autumn Leaves: Learning to cut paper leaves (inspired by Emilie Vast and Katsumi Komagata), Paper Garlands (inspired by Nathalie Parain’s Ribambelles).

Through the process of working out the details of how to publish the book, it made perfect sense to marry these two projects, making To Night and Back · Mece la noche La Escuela de Papel’s first editorial venture! The book can be currently bought directly by writing to me, and will shortly be available on the L'École de Papier website, which I am thrilled to announce is under construction as we speak by the very talented Ana and Laura from La Particular.

Song of the day

Anoushka Shankar- Lola's Lullaby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8e5cFDlfn4I

 

 


many stories,

many stories,

Many stories inhabit us. We carry them faithfully, sometimes silently. There are some we can't wait to share, or that spurt right out of us uncontrollably. Some are more difficult to tell. We let these grow inside of us until we are ready. Some of them we take to our graves.

Many stories have become universal. Folk tales, fairytales, nursery rhymes, epic poems are carried across cultures, told or sung from one generation to the next. As Angela Carter writes: “For most of human history, 'literature,' both fiction and poetry, has been narrated, not written — heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are all of them the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.” Adapted and readapted continuously.

 

"Little Red Riding Hood is perhaps one of the best known fairy tales. Like most European fairy tales, its origins lie within a sprawling folk tradition of oral storytelling. It was first published in the late 17th century by Charles Perrault – a French author who is considered to be the father of the fairy tale genre due to his work collecting these tales together for the first time in print. This later version, contained within a small, hand-coloured chapbook, dates from 1810 and was published in Moorfields, London. It is told in the form of a verse poem with alternating unrhymed and rhymed couplets. The clear text and simple language, coupled with the large colourful illustrations, suggests that this chapbook was aimed at young readers." Source: British Library

Many stories transform and transcend through the years, preserving their meaning while taking upon new forms and formats.

 

Little Red Riding Hood by artist Warja Lavater, whose series of classic fairytales consists of accordion books that tell the stories through the use of symbols rather than words, with a small legend to guide the reader on the first pages. Published by: Maeght Editions
Details from Little Red Riding Hood by artist Warja Lavater

Many stories live in books, in works of art, on walls, in the theatre. These also inhabit us as we inhabit them. In the words of John Berger from Keeping a Rendezvous: “When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own.” In A Way of Being Free, Ben Okri continues upon this train of thought: “Reading, therefore, is a co-production between writer and reader. The simplicity of this tool is astounding. So little, yet out of it whole worlds, eras, characters, continents, people never encountered before, people you wouldn’t care to sit next to in a train, people that don’t exist, places you’ve never visited, enigmatic fates, all come to life in the mind, painted into existence by the reader’s creative powers. In this way the creativity of the writer calls up the creativity of the reader. Reading is never passive.” By appropriating stories, one not only makes them their own, but enters the story more completely. This is demonstrated time and again, when working with children with classic tales.

Shadow puppet theatre of Little Red Riding Hood for one of my L'École de Papier workshops. Photos by Daniela Martagón
Acting out the story during the workshop at L'Institut Français Madrid . Photos by Éric Mangin

Bringing stories "to life" through enacting is one way of appropriating them. Shadow play, also known as shadow puppetry, is an ancient form of storytelling which uses flat articulated shadow puppets which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. This idea of the shadow reflecting truth is  reflected in Plato's Allegory of the Cave: “On the walls of the cave, only the shadows are the truth”. Though shadow play originated from Central Asia in the 1st century BCE, it has been constantly revived and reinvented. Lotte Reiniger, a German artist from the 1950s translated this tradition onto the silver screen, making the first animation films of fairytales using elaborate silhouette figures cut out from black paper.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXQPZqOqe58

This documentary by the British Film Institute explains Lotte Reiniger's creative process, demonstrating how the flat figure is transformed to a motion picture.

 

The above images include original frames and puppets by Lotte Reiniger, as well as her tools. Source: Tübingen Universitätsstadt

Many stories follow traditional storytelling narratives and formats, or adapt them to create new forms.

This short documentary explores some of the storytelling traditions in India, retold by the authors of the Jaipur literature festival in 2011.

 

The above images explain the Bunraku tradition. Source: Fact & Details.

 

Modern adaptations of puppet play provide us with new forms of story telling, that mix ancient traditions with contemporary narratives. In The Table, the British production company Blind Summit, uses Bunraku puppetry to invent new styles of theatre.

 

Extract from a performance of The Table, by Blind Summit Theatre.

 

Many stories inhabit the spaces in which we move, from people or things who have lived in them before us. Walter Benjamin describes this idea in Berlin Childhood around 1900: “Not to find one's way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one's way in a city, as one loses one's way in a forest, requires some schooling. Street names must speak to the urban wanderer like the snapping of dry twigs, and little streets in the heart of the city must reflect the times of day, for him, as clearly as a mountain valley. This art I acquired rather late in life; it fulfilled a dream, of which the first traces were labyrinths on the blotting papers in my school notebooks.” Galia Levy-Grad pays homage to the city of Warsaw and tells her story as she describes: "which takes place in the Jewish diaspora" but doesn't have "a strong diaspora feeling". Indeed, her mix of the pop-up book, traditional music and shadow play creates a celebratory interpretation of a repeatedly heart-breaking story.

 

 

Many stories, in fact, recount the loss of homelands and the encounter of new ones. In the documentary The Missing Picture, Rithy Panh remembers his childhood in Cambodia when the country had been taken over by the Khmer Rouge. He recreates unbearably painful scenes using clay figures. A review on Film Comment describes that: "Rithy Panh, who is at the forefront of efforts to reckon with the legacy of the Khmer Rouge, employs an unusual mix of clay figurines with pensive voiceover and worn-out vintage propaganda footage to revisit his country’s traumatic past. Rather than adopting the accusatory tone of an investigation, The Missing Picture is marked by a certain stillness and emotional containment, like a hushed visit to a memorial.

Stills from The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSU3AN4QMko

A brief extract of the documentary The Missing Picture.

In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Walter Benjamin develops this idea of stillness and containment: “Every morning brings us news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event comes to us without being already shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it. . . . The most extraordinary things, marvelous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the event is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks.”

This stillness can be found in many great stories. In his his self-reflective work, La grande boule de beige, Juan Carlos Bracho ponders upon the creative process, the act of telling a story slowly, a revindication of fast accesible information, and a personal inner-journey.

 

Many stories are constructed through the act of creating them. South African artist William Kentridge talks about the need for looking for meaning through his work. He talks about the process of "reverse engineering" where the desire and act of making something is the very construction of the story, that the story is born from the intention of making and not the other way around.  The "physical activities of cutting, tearing and collaging generate ideas and infuse his work with meaning. Rather than starting with an idea that is then executed, Kentridge relies on these freeform processes and the resulting juxtapositions to find connections and raise questions." Source: art21

 

Original work from the Kentridge retrospective at Museo Reina Sofía.

Many stories are told through poetry. Paul Éluard 's Liberté is a an ode to freedom written during the German occupation of France. He initially wrote it for the women he loved and realised that the only word really had in mind was liberty."Je pensais révéler pour conclure le nom de la femme que j’aimais, à qui ce poème était destiné. Mais je me suis vite aperçu que le seul mot que j’avais en tête était le mot Liberté. Ainsi, la femme que j’aimais incarnait un désir plus grand qu’elle. Je la confondais avec mon aspiration la plus sublime, et ce mot Liberté n’était lui-même dans tout mon poème que pour éterniser une très simple volonté, très quotidienne, très appliquée, celle de se libérer de l’Occupant."  The poem ends with these final verses:

"Sur l'absence sans désir
Sur la solitude nue
Sur les marches de la mort
J'écris ton nom

Sur la santé revenue
Sur le risque disparu
Sur l'espoir sans souvenir
J'écris ton nom

Et par le pouvoir d'un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer

Liberté"

 

An edition of the poem illustrated by Anouck Boisrobet & Louis Rigaud, published by Flammarion.

Kate Tempest uses poetry and performs it in spoken work. Her work draws upon the themes of storytelling, mythology and ancestry. In her poem Brand New Ancients she writes:

"We are still mythical;
we are still
permanently trapped
somewhere between the heroic and the pitiful"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdE0BkP95Ng

Kate Tempest's reading of Brand New Ancients at Letters Live.

In my theatre-book To Night and Back · Mece la noche, I drew upon the mythology that was transmitted to me as a child to tell the story of our community's exile from Sind during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. I found great reconciliation in being able to tell this story that was so hard for "my elders" to share with me.

Photo of  To Night and Back · Mece la noche theatre book.

The project began as a small sketchbook, grew into a crowd funding campaign, which resulted in a small self-published edition of the book, paper-toy rewards and artist boxes. I was surprised to see it's evolution, and  will write more about it in my next post.

 

https://vimeo.com/143784163

 

https://vimeo.com/144474415

 

https://vimeo.com/147348500

Three animations made inspired by the theatre-book To Night and Back. The animations were designed by myself, Raquel Martinez Uña and Pluviam.
Song of the day

Nitin Sawhney - Homelands

 

texto


it ends with the dance of death.

It ends with the dance of death

If we can say that human life begins at the origin, we can equally say that it ends with the dance of death.

In the chapter dedicated to the skeleton in Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, Grassa Toro writes:

“There are two kinds of skeletons: living skeletons and dead ones. A dead skeleton is always laughing and when we try to stand it up, it looks as if it wants to dance. But that’s not true. It's just that it has nothing to lean on and it becomes disjointed. Dead skeletons have been used throughout history as a way to scare us, to paint paintings, to remind us that vanity is disconcerting, and to give us an idea what a live skeleton looks like, because we never see a live skeleton.”

While collecting material to make the images for the book and to write this post, I found it interesting to see how despite the underlying taboos of talking about death, so many cultures share a pictorial identity of representing it. It seems poking fun at our mortality is a very common way of facing it.

This idea of personifying death as a dancing skeleton is found throughout history, in most cultures and eras.

The image below is attributed to the Persian physician, astronomer and thinker Avicenna (also known as Ibn Sina, 980-1037). His written work included the books: The Canon of Medicine and The Book of Healing.  Source: Anatomía Rehabilitación y medicina física

 

Coloured plate of a human skeleton, included in one of Avicenna’s books.

The formal idea of the death dance or the Danse Macabre, dates back to the Late middle ages as an artistic genre of allegory of the on the universality of death. I came across this website which has a wonderful source of images from the period, such as the one below. Unfortunately, the site does not include the information about each piece, so I have no reference as to the artist, title or date.

 

If anyone has the information to this image, please email me at karishma.chugani@gmail.com

 

The Three Living and the Three Dead is a moral story from the 14th century in which three figures, often aristocratic and flaunting their vitality, meet three corpses who remind them about the inevitability of death. The numerous variations of this story and their accompanying illustrations provide a stark contrast between the beauty of the living and the worm-eaten corpses of the deceased. Moral messages about the importance of living a virtuous life on Earth are typical amongst Psalters and Book of Hours. Source: British Library.

 

This image illustrates a version of Ars Morendi (The Art of Dying), a series of related texts from 1415 and 1450 which act as instruction manuals to the protocols of dying well.

 

Marseille - BM - ms. 0089, f. 063. Ars moriendi. France, late 15th century

 

The Bardo Thödol (Tibetan: བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ), Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State by Karma Lingpa (1326–1386) is known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The Tibetan text describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death, in the bardo, the interval between death and the next rebirth. The text also includes chapters on the signs of death and rituals to undertake when death is closing in or has taken place.

 

Colour plate from Bardo Thödol (Tibetan book of death)

 

The next image is included in a book of anatomical studies by John Banister, a member of the Company of Barber Surgeons, who were licensed by Henry VIII in 1540 to anatomise the bodies of four criminals a year.
Banister joined the Company in 1572 and soon became their Lecturer in Anatomy. He has been called ‘the turnkey who released anatomy [in England] from its mediaeval bondage into the daylight of the Renaissance’ (Buckland-Wright 1985). Source: University of Glasgow.

 

Painting commissioned by John Banister Ca 1580, table 3

 

In Japan, the artist Kawanabe Kyosai painted scrolls such as this one, which depicts a skeleton seated and playing shamisen while other skeletons, some with bamboo swords at their sides, others with towels bound around their foreheads, are enjoying music and dancing. Source: The British Museum.

 

Kawanabe Kyosai (1831 - 1889) - Skeletons dancing - Painting on silk, hanging scroll

 

Also from Japan, between 1603-1868, during the Edo period, medical illustrations depicting the human skeleton seemed to have a minimalism and humour to them.

 

Medical illustration of the human skeleton, Japan. Artist unknown.

 

Memento mori (Latin: "remember that you have to die") is the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. This image belongs to a collection from the Southern German School of painting from the 18th century.

 

Artist unknown.

 

Jumping straight from there to more contemporary references, Marcel Dzama’s video installation Death Disco Dance is a wonderful version of the above mentioned pieces.
The video is accompanied by a series of drawings, studies and three-dimensional paper-theatre models.

https://vimeo.com/35887434

 

The video is accompanied by a series of drawings, studies and three-dimensional paper-theatre models.

 

These final images are the my own laughs and giggles at death; the illustrations for the chapters about cranium and the skeleton in the book This Body is Human.

 

 

Song of the day

Around the World - Daft Punk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JPa3BNi6l4


The human body begins at the origin,

The human body begins at the origin.

This Body is Human · Este cuerpo es humano, written by Grassa Toro and translated by Claudio Cambon, begins like this:

“Penis, penis, penis, penis, penis, penis, penis and scrotum, testicles, prostate and seminal vesicles: the male genital organs.

Vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina and outer labia, inner labia, clitoris, vulvar vestibule, vulvar vestibule glands, hymen, mons pubis, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries: the female genital organs.

Feet are not called feet because we use them to dance, but genital organs are called that because they generate the raw material used to create new life. ”

Unlike most anatomical atlases I had come across growing up, this text celebrates the sexual organs, describing them without any trace of shame or modesty. Instead of being safely tucked away in the back of the book as an afterthought, or hidden within the many chapters describing various body parts, organs and systems; in this book, the sexual organs are showcased in the very first pages.
In order to illustrate them with the same sense of celebration, I felt the need to undo a lot of the cultural conditioning I had been fed through the years, and so I began to look at ancient atlases for some source of wisdom and orientation.

I was thrilled to find many sources of exquisite references depicting the sexual organs.
In ancient medical illustrations, such as the ones below (both undated and unsigned, probably dating form the 18th century in India), images of female sexual organs tend to reflect fertility and male sexual organs tend to reflect virility. Source: Islamic Medical Manuscripts

 

The image on the left shows a pregnant woman. Her abdomen and chest are opened to reveal the internal organs and foetus. Around her are two hearts, the lungs, and something unidentified.
The image on the right shows a male figure with his abdomen and chest opened to reveal the internal organs. He holds a second set of genitalia and a horn. Around him are the liver and gallbladder.

 

The image below is from a text called Provisions for the Traveller and Nourishment for the Sedentary, written by Ahmed Ibn al-Jazzar in Tunisia at the end of the ninth-century. He was the son and nephew of physicians, and set up his own practice where he examined patients, and had his servant administer the medicines. He was also a prolific writer, with medicine being the main topic.The book’s title is misleading since it offers an in-depth guide to healthcare. It covers various diseases and problems, and supplied treatments. Among the topics covered were sexual diseases and their cures. Source: The medievalist

 
This image accompanies a chapter covering men’s sexual problems: It follows al-Jazzar’s theory that having a proper balance in the testicles was the key factor in male sexual health.

 

I found these pregnancy illustrations are from a copy of Ishinhō, the oldest existing medical book in Japan. Originally written by Yasuyori Tanba in 982 A.D., the 30-volume work describes a variety of diseases and their treatment. Much of the knowledge presented in the book originated from China. Source: Pink Tentacle

 

The illustrations shown here are from a copy of the book that dates to about 1860.

 

This woodcut illustration with hand colouring shows the figure of a pregnant woman. I was fascinated at how the body resembled that of a frog ready for dissection.

 

The image belongs to Fasciculus Medicinae, first printed in 1491 in Latin.

As well as delving into ancient manuscripts, I also turned to more realistic medical diagrams of human anatomy such as the ones below.

The image on the left is antique human anatomy lithograph in colour by LyraNebulaPrints. On the right, Human penis; forms dimensions & angles. Dickinson & Legman (1943-1947)

 

I was surprised to find this print of plant anatomy, whose lines and structure resembles the lines and shapes of the female vagina.

 

Grew, Nehemiah, 1641-1712. The anatomy of plants - Biodiversity Heritage Library

 

I turned to some of my favourite artists such as Egon Schiele, Louis Bourgeois and Kiki Smith. And through the process, discovered artists I was unfamiliar with such as Jamie McCartney, whose project The Great Wall of Vagina impressed me. Other work I discovered were the vagina portraits of Ida Applebroog, and embroideries by various artists including Hanna Melin and Gareth Brookes.

 

Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Woman with Black Stockings, 1913. Gouache, watercolour and pencil, 48.3 x 31.8 cm. Private collection, courtesy of Richard Nagy, London

 

There are so many images that I could have posted of Louise Bourgeois, I chose this one because I found it powerful and appropriate to the subject of my post.

 

Caption image 11: Louise Bourgeois. The Cross-Eyed Woman Giving Birth, 2005

 

Kiki Smith, Vagina (ink on paper). Source: artnet

 

Ida Applebroog, one of a collection of over 100 drawings of her vagina. The Source: BlouinArtInfo

 

Illustration by Hanna Melin for the Guardian

 

Embroidery of the female reproductive system. Artist unknown

 

My list of inspirations is ever-growing, especially now that the book is published, and I have more time to continue my research the human body which has become a fascination for me. At the moment, this has lead me to reading some wonderful books and graphic novels on the subject. Here is a brief visual list:

L’Origine du Monde is Liv Stromquist grapgic novel entirely dedicated to the female sexual organs. It includes historical documents, medical references, myths and stereotypes. It is not only a great reference source, but also an extremely sensitive and hilarious piece of work.

 

I have already cited Katy Couprie in a previous post, and I'll happy repeat it here. Her book, Dictionnaire Fou du Corps is one of my favourite books about the human body.

 

Chapter V from Dictionnaire Fou du Corps, Katy Couprie

 

I was very surprised to find Black Project in a bookshop over the holidays. Who would have thought someone would be capable to embroider an entire graphic novel. As well as being fascinated by the technique, Gareth Brookes shares an intimate and ambiguous story which moved me.

 

 

I am currently reading two new graphic novels that I received as gifts. The first is Une Histoire de Sexe, by Philippe Brenot and Laetitia Coryn. The second is Libres, manifesto pour s'affranchir des diktats sexuels, by Diglee and Ovidie. You can read a review of the book here.

 

 

After all this talk of the images that inspired my work on the sexual organs in the book, I wanted to close this post with some of my own images. If you wish to order a copy of the book, which is now printed and published, you can do so at here.

 

Song of the day

Hedwig & the Angry Inch - The origin of Love


when I discovered (that) This Body Is Human

When I discovered (that) This Body Is Human

Making the images for the book Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human was a wonderful surprise. It is a poetic atlas of scientific anatomy for both children and adults. When I first read the text written by (Carlos) Grassa Toro I fell in love with it, because of its joy and joked about wanting to do the images if ever the book was published again. A few months later, Carlos invited me to make the images of the book and explained the launch of Biblioteca La Cala.

Working on the images of the book at La Cala

This book is very different from others I have illustrated. It has nothing to do with my family, my cultural heritage. It does not talk about my personal story. It talks about the human body, its functions, its organs, its strengths and weaknesses.

Details of hands and the nervous system · photos by Maria Pascual & Miki Hernandez Pluviam.

While making the images I tried to imagine the kind of body book I would have loved to have as a little girl; one that did not transmit shame of private parts, one that explained things with a sense of humor. I learned tons making this book and I am very excited to share it with you after so many months of silent work.

In this video I explain a bit about my creative process while making the images for the book.

The crowd-funding campaign for the Biblioteca La Cala is still open so you can preorder your copy of the book.

Song of the day:

Nina Simone - Ain’t Got No, I Got Life


about what’s keeping me up at night

There are many exciting things going on at the moment that are keeping me up at night.
They also wake me up at the wee hours of the morning to stitch, embroider, paint, and write about.

The first on of these things, is the launch of Biblioteca La Cala, a collection of publications born in a space dedicated to artistic creation.

La Cala, over the two years since I first discovered it, has become one of my many homes. Since, I have participated in 2 collective exhibitions: Retablo, retablo, kaavad, arból and Reino animal, one open artist residence, and made the images for the book Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human. You can read more about my activity in La Cala here.

Kaavad illustrating Rudyard Kipling’s story The Elephant’s Child from Just So Stories illustrated and designed by me.Photo credit: Rubén Vicente

The actual kaavad, which is a portable storytelling temple originating from the village of Bassi in Rajasthan, India was made by the carpenter Ana Perez in Madrid.

Telling the story of The Elephant’s Child at the the private view of the exhibition on the 1 November, 2015. Photo credit: Rubén Vicente
Working on a mind-map constellation of the project Las visitas de Nani during my artist residence in February 2016 at La Cala.
Drawing the miniature vignettes of Las visitas de Nani during residence.
Video documentary produced by La Cala following my residence.

La Cala is a space dedicated to artistic creation and research. A space, (in the words of it’s director Grassa Toro), “where for twelve years there has been uninterrupted activity including thought, contemplation, creation, research. Art, writing, film, theatre, illustration, reading, music, graphic design, thinking.”

It has been constant surprise discovering this space and collaborating in projects there. It has been escpecially exciting working on the launch of the ediotial collection, Bibilioteca La Cala, for which a crowfunding campaign has been launched exactly one week ago.

The collection begins with two titles. The first is El París, a novel by Grassa Toro. The second is Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, with texts by Grassa Toro, images by me. It is a bilingual spanish-english edition that has been translated by Claudio Cambon.

To celebrate the launch of the campaign, La Cala’s 12th anniversary, the inauguration of the exhibition Reino Animal, Grassa Toro hosted a beautiful afternoon feast, which I was very happy to be able to attend.

Details of my piece at the exhibition Reino Animal
Grassa Toro, Diego Fermin, Helena Santolaya, Isidro Ferrer, Pep Carrio, Laura Bustillo, Ana Mareca, Aitana Carrasco Inglés, Alicia Ferrer, Karishma Chugani, Gonzalo Ferreró Marco. Director and collaborators of La CALA at the launch party on the 1st of November 2017.

By participating in the crowdfunding campaign, you will be supporting La Cala and you will be able to pre-order your own copy of the books.

Song of the day:

Stromae - sommeil


Let me tell you more

Let me tell you more

about what I am working on at the moment.  This will be the place where I will announce upcoming events, presentations, workshops. I will write about new projects and collaborations. At times, I will write new things about old projects, or about things I have stored secretly away in boxes and drawers. Just to air them out, to share them with you, to ponder on what to do next.

I hope to write every week, on Sunday mornings. Sunday morning are good for writing. They are also very good for sleeping in, and doing other such things, so if I don’t write rigidly every Sunday morning...you will understand that I am doing something equally  or more important.

Today’s announcement is situational - if you are reading these lines it is because you find yourself (intentionally or better yet haphazardly) in my blog.

This is situated inside of my brand new, squeaky-clean website, which will be launched at the end of the month. It is being carefully designed and constructed as we speak by Ana Mareca and Laura Bustillo La Particular.

 

Web work sessions with Laura Bustillo and Ana Mareca La Particular in the library of La Cala

The photographs of my work are by Maria Pascual de la Torre and Miguel Hernandez Miki Pluviam.

Constructing my website has been like making couscous among friends on Fridays: a feast, celebratory, requiring strategic planning as to what ingredients to include, preparation of each ingredient with care, music and dancing in the background while doing it all, dedicating lots of time and attention to all the steps.

 

Photoshoot sessions with María Pascual and Miki Hernandez, Pluviam

We started this many Fridays ago and are now just tending to the final details.

The launch of the web will be accompanied by imaginary fireworks.

 

Song of the day:

L’Arpeggiata - Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) - Tarantella Napoletana, Tono Hypodorico