La piel de papel · Paper Skin

It has been many months, perhaps even years since I last wrote a post. Today I have just returned from a week long artist residence at La Cala de Chodes and of the many different themes I worked on, I spent a lot of time thinking, talking and writing about my research process as an artist. In this blog, I have always tried, to share this very process and have missed doing so. I left residence committed to write again, at a slower pace, leaving time for thought and preparation, and decided it best to start today.

Over this past week, I set myself an intention of trying to comprehend my relationship to how I consume culture: responding to a personal dilema I face time and again regarding cultural appropriation. Before I continue, I will just step back for an instant and situate myself - in italics.

I am from many places: born in Casablanca, to a family of Sindhi origin, my father born in Mumbai and mother in Accra. I grew up with an earful of languages: English as my mother tongue, French as a second language, which was trickled with words in dárija while Hindi garbled from the television in colourful Bollywood dramas and choreographies and in the background the "elders" (grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles) would converse in their Sindhi dialect to share family secrets. This, turns out, is one of the best ways for a child to learn a language.

I have lived in many places: I moved to london at 18 to study art and design, began my professional life back home working for the family business while making and exhibiting large abstract oil paintings in my spare time. I began a new phase when I moved to Madrid 15 years ago and studies many different aspects revolving around book-making. During this time, I lived in Paris for two years.

My work is multi-disciplinary: I write, illustrate, design clothes, teach, make books, cut paper. And all of this, these lists of multitudes, have been fundamental in how I live and work. All of this has made me insatiably curious and have caused internal unrest which more often than not provokes creative responses of one sort or another. 

So, all of this said, I can get back to the appropriation dilema and address my obsession with multitudes. I have spent a couple of decades struggling with the weight of what I was entitled to take from the multi-cultural baggage that make up the stuff of my vital experience. Despite the weight, I have not found another way to navigate this world, rather than ingesting all that I live, experience and see. Once ingested, through my creative process I have learned to mix and mash it all up: weaving together miniature paintings, medieval illuminated manuscripts, bestiaries, Indian Kalamkari block-printing, Dadaist collages and William Morris patterns to name a few. The discomfort of taking things that I don't consider my own has held me back from playing more, from mixing more, from moving out of the cultural references "close to home". This weight, this fear of appropriating in the colonial sense of the word - by trying to own it - has conditioned me to feel uncomfortable learning from new and unrelated sources. Stopping to reflect upon all of this awoke a series of questions: · does our cultural heritage necessarily define us? and if so, how do we define cultural heritage? · have I, for many years, felt more comfortable nourishing my creative landscape with references linked to my bloodline? · and by doing so, have i done the very thing I can't stand - which is to attempt to define and identity as purely one thing? · is it possible to navigate the world with a discourse other than a genealogical one?

And the questions, of course, led to more, and even bigger questions questions: · what does it mean to make something your own? · what does it mean to "take the skin" of something or someone else? · do I inhabit my own skin? · how do I inhabit my skin? · what does it mean to be an artist? · does self-expression surge from a desire or necessity?



This week in residence, I began questioning all kinds of thought patterns and beliefs. In parallel, I researched cultures, philosophies and intelectual discourse unfamiliar to me: the Caribbean carnaval, African masks, transvestites, Amazigh female signers, Oceanic art, mediaeval bestiaries, the monstrous and the grotesque. I looked into art brut, antique toys, the work of Paul Cox, Mexican popular art. I watched performance artists such as Lemebel, System K, Leigh Bowery. I listened to the songs of Rodrigo Cuevas, La Bruja de Texcoco and Lido Pimienta. I searched the etymologies of words such as folk (english), insuffler (french), baraka (arabic), and anthropomorphic (english); as I discovered the delights of visual poets such as Joan Brossa.  I stumbled, time and again, across the concept of transformation and metamorphosis.



Images of the Chilean writer, poet and performance artist

As I sat down to write, I couldn't help thinking back a few decades ago, to my first readings of Edward Said, back when I was grappling with the idea of colonialism. Rather than paraphrase, I found this quote, that expresses succinctly the paradigmatic shift I seek.

Visual poems by Joan Brossa

“No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are not more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or Black, or Western, or Oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. No one can deny the persisting continuities of long traditions, sustained habitations, national languages, and cultural geographies, but there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about. Survival in fact is about the connections between things; in Eliot’s phrase, reality cannot be deprived of the “other echoes [that] inhabit the garden.” It is more rewarding - and more difficult - to think concretely and sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others than only about “us.” But this also means not trying to rule others, not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how “our” culture or country is number one (or not number one, for that matter).”
― Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism


During various conversations at La Cala, I realised one part of the key I was looking for: cultural appropriation is not owning something but rather making it your own. Which links me to a newspaper article that seemed to tie everything nicely together. The concept of "resonance" coined by German sociologist Harmut Rosa has been elaborated by Nathanaël Wallenhorst, doctor in the sciences of education, of politics and of the environment. Through his studies of the concept, Wallenhorst develops the concept of resonance as an active listening of our surroundings and of the planet, transitioning from a state of existence to co-existence and integrating resistance to the current state of affairs as a predominant attitude.

The article also proposes a strong shift in education and the consumption of culture, revindication the very act of breathing in or infusing (insuffler in French) culture to make it one's own that I mentioned previously. And I would like to link this argument back to the perplexities of appropriation and identity once again with the words of Said.

“Liberation as an intellectual mission, born in the resistance and opposition to the confinements and ravages of imperialism, has now shifted from the settled, established, and domesticated dynamics of culture to its unhoused, decentered, and exilic energies, energies whose incarnation today is the migrant, and whose consciousness is that of the intellectual and artist in exile, the political figure between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages. From this perspective then all things are indeed counter, original, spare, strange. From this perspective also, one can see 'the complete consort dancing together' contrapuntally.”
― Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism

This sense of dance, sounds and movement that Said so eloquently mentions, tied in with the concepts of transformation/metamorphosis are precisely what intrigued my research into the carnaval. Working with the idea of carnaval is interesting in that it offers a dance between concepts such as indulgence and constraint; celebration and austerity; chaos and control; transformation and identity. I was surprised to find  nuances in the etymology of the word: borrowed from French carnaval, either from Italian carnivale, from Medieval Latin carnelevale, from carnem (flesh) + levāre (to lighten, raise). The alternative carnem vale (“flesh farewell”) is a folk etymology. To raise from the flesh, to leave the flesh, to restrain from the flesh, to embrace and renounce carnal desire.

The concepts of elevation, transformation and celebration implied by carnaval offer me a space for playing within new imaginary areas. I spent my week directly researching the subject, during which I discovered the incredible Herzog documentary Jag Mandir. In parallel to this I looked at medieval bestiaries and monster imagery. I read about the mask in Paul Zumthor's Le masque et la lumière.

I cut paper, made stamps, drew with ink and played.


There will be more readings, explorations and ruminations. There will be more time and space for playing. The carnaval has only just begun.

Song of the day

La Bruja de Texcoco - Té de Malvón

Songs of the Jungle

In spring of 2012, during my Masters in Illustrated Picture Books for Children at I con I, I travelled to India. On the last day of my trip, I bought the Penguin paperback edition of The Jungle Book. I felt slightly naughty in doing so. I had militantly resisted reading authors such as Kipling and E.M. Forester for decades. They were "too colonial", "too British" in respect to India. I devoured on the other hand every exiled or expatriated Indian author writing in English. The quest for their origins accompanied me through my own parallel journey.


How fear came, illustration by Rudyard Kiping

As time passed, my obsession with my origins allowed me to read more varied authors. This was equally shaped by my moving from Casablanca to London and back, and then from Madrid to Paris and back.  My reading list grew, I read in Spanish and French as well as in English. My resistance to certain authors due to their politics also shifted. So when I finally read Kipling's Jungle Book, jet lagged from my trip, I didn't feel guilty when I fell madly in love with the story.

I felt so much for this little boy, born in one world, brought up in another and constantly questioning both who and what he is.

I fell in love with the animals, their hindi names, their descriptions.


On the left: Not green corn. On the right: In the forest with Bagheera and Baloo. By Rudyard Kipling


At the time I had an assignment by the author Emilie Vast to make a small silent accordion book with a  surprise ending. Emilie's work is full of vegetation and animals, so I felt that a jungle book of my own would be appropriate. The work I presented didn't complete the brief, I knew that before I began it to be honest, but couldn't help myself.


Image for Milk Magazine by Emilie Vast


I entered a jungle of my own thoughts, lined with coloured paper. And so I began to cut. I cut leaves and trees. I cut out characters of heavy tracing paper and coloured them in.

First maquette of Songs of the Jungle, photos by @Pluviam.

Years passed, as they do in the process of almost all of my projects. I thought often about publishing a small edition of the book using screen printing. I redid the illustrations and sent them to illustration contests only to have them sent back.


Edited illustrations for  Songs of the Jungle, photos by @Pluviam.

And then in 2018, weeks after becoming a mom to a beautiful 2 year old boy, I realised it was time to do something about the book. I wanted to publish it as a birth/arrival gift for my son. I met with  Natalia Royo Parache from TintaEntera Taller de Obra Gráfica on a trip to Zaragoza and we talked about the possibilities of screen printing a limited edition of the book and the process it would entail. We crunched numbers, decided on a co-edition between her studio and my L'École de Papier.


New illustrations for the book with a very different Mowgli character.

As I was decided on re-doing the artwork, I decided to do so in layers so that they could be easily translated to the various colour layers. We maintained the transparency of the paper, so that the objet-book could be played with to give a sense of depth to the jungle.


Process images of the new artwork, separated in colour layers.


Natalia translated the artwork beautifully, respecting the originals as closely as possible. While she was working on the screen printing process of the book in Zaragoza; I began playing around with stencil screens at Fabrica de Texturas in Madrid to see what the result would be like.

Playing with superpositions at Fabrica de Texturas.

A year after our first and only live meeting, we presented the book in her studio in Zaragoza.


Songs of the Jungle. Photos by @La Particular


Unfortunately,due to lockdown, we had to cancel the presentation  on Wednesday 11th of March in Panta Rhei, accompanied by Pep Carrió. We will have to wait a little while before we can converse about books, hand-made artist books, artesanal processes, making books to celebrate big life events amongst other things. New date will be announced as soon as possible. Stay safe everyone.


Song of the day:
Trust in me - Susheela Raman

Nani's visits

My Nani always surprised me with her adventurous ways, her incredible memory, her sense of humour. For me, her visits to Casblanca were filled with tales of far away, with mantras and stories of Hanuman or Ganesha. Her cooking filled the house with smells of our "homeland" and her laughter was very contagious. Four years ago, as part of a project for my Masters degree in picture books for children, I had to illustrate a recipe that was special to me. Following that exercise I was asked to tell a story using both words and images explaining why it was so special. I chose my Nani's nankathais (cardamom butter cookies). What I didn't realise at the time, was that this project would transform into the a book where I would tell the story about Partition, about Sindhi Hindu exile, and more specifically, about how a family dispersed over four continents could remain united thanks to a vibrant, energetic grandmother.


The text for the original story is as follows: When i was little, Nani's visits were very special events. She came from far away and she would stay for a long time. In her suitcase, she brought strange things...especially lots of stories to tell us at bedtime. Nani herself sometimes resembled one of the magical characters from her tales. She would wake up every morning around 4 and would do so many things with energy and smiles. And when she began to cook, our little home began to smell of new things that came from far away, like her. My favourite dish of Nani's are her famous cardamom cookies. Nani's Nankhatais. She would awlays prepare them to cheer me up and I so enjoyed eating them and feeling Nani's scent.
I still do. Now Nani lives at home, and I live far away. But sometimes I can feel her energy. This past autumn, we prepared a very special celebration to share the light of Diwali with our friends. Despite the distance, Nani was with us.


After showing the initial story to close friends and family members -especially my brother Sanjay-  I understood that this project wanted to grow. Nani had so many adventures that I wanted to share. From my early childhood, I remember her as a traveling grandmother, bouncing around from one continent to another, with a suitcase (or two) full of surprises, spices, presents and most of all full of stories to tell us.



My Nani with the initial maquette of the book, telling me stories about Sindh


Around the time that I began working on this book, Nani slowed down on her travelling and gradually spent more and more time at my parent's house in Casablanca. Although I lived at Madrid at the time, I travelled back and forth frequently so that I could collect her stories, anecdotes, tales and recipes. I documented everything I could, in audio/video recordings, photographs, notes and sketches.


Images from the little sketchbook I used to record my conversations with Nani between 2012 and 2016


A year into the project, Ekaré Ediciones confirmed that they wanted to publish the book. The most wonderful thing about having them as publishers was that I knew they would take care of it, respect my creative process and my rhythm. What I didn't know was how long and laborious the process would be and that they would accompany me through it all, in more ways that I could imagine.

Besides talking to and recording Nani, I collected my research from my brother and my cousins, who had all experienced Nani's visits as well. Sanjay, Anjali, Shalini, Sandhya, Kiran, Dinika, Anoop, Soneela, Meenakshi,  Jyotish and Sharan all sent me their childhood memories with Nani. When digging deeper into the past andI delved into family photo albums and fished out images to help me create a visual language for the book.


On the left a photo of Nani and Dada (my maternal grandparents) shortly after their wedding, and on the right  a photo of Nani about 20 years later in Ghana.
On the family photos and sketches. On the right, final image of our family tree

In early spring of 2015, inspired by my fascination for all things miniature, I sketched and wrote the entire storyboard for book on vignettes the size of business-cards. The process took a little over 2 weeks of work, doing little else.

During this time, my mother accompanied me virtually, sending me updated recipes and photographs of Nani's sweets via whatsapp. Nani had this magical way of improvising in the kitchen, so trying to get precise measurements for ingredients was quite challenging.


In a bigger sketchbook dedicated to the project, I sketched and wrote out the entire storyboard for the book. The text in its entirety was written on these little vignettes - each page the size of a business card - until I finally transcribed them onto a computer after having gone through it with my publishers.
Satpuro and malpuro made by Mum to help me illustrate the recipes for the book


It took almost another year to begin the final artwork for the book. I realised that although I had all the elements to complete it, I was missing both the time and space to do so. In February of 2016, I treated myself to an artist residence at La Cala de Chodes which I have written about in several previous posts. During the residence, I worked on the final drawings for the book and on a mind-map mural which permitted me to tell my version of my family's story. At that time, Nani was 92 and though less agile and nomadic, in good health and full of feisty energy. Besides her age, there was no indication that she would be leaving us any time in the near future, and yet I felt the need to reflect upon on memory, remembering and death. Nani left us just over a month after I completed the residence. I am very happy I had that time prior to her death to help me prepare for it.


Images by Rubén Vicente at La Cala
On the left, the first magic-realist scene in the book. My grandfather Dada, whilst on his deathbed, transforms into the bird-god Garuda, and flies around the world with Nani showing her all the homes she will have (those of her children) once he is no more. On the right, a miniature painting of Garuda.

During Nani's last weeks, I just happened to be working on Chapter 3 of the book, which talks about the death of my grandfather, who had passed away almost exactly 33 years before. I spent ten days by her side, in the clinic, reading the Upanishads and sketching while she was asleep. It was then that I began to realise just Nani's stories about Hindu mythology had marked my imagination through the years. I decided to accompany each chapter with the presence of at least one deity. As I was working on the chapter dealing most directly with death, I included Lord Yama, the god of death, in the final scenes of my grandfather's life. Though the structure of the book remained exactly the same, this decision completely changed the book.

In the months that followed, I thought lots about how the constant presence of mythology, rituals and celebration accompanied me through childhood to my adult life. I know that much of this rich cultural heritage was transmitted to me by my Nani. Well into the final stages of the book, I began noticing works by other artists with similar stories about cultural transmission.


On the left Yama, Lord of death. On the right, image in process of the end papers of the book with a series of gods and goddesses


As I was living in Paris at the time, I bought Michele Petit's Lire le Monde in French, devoured it within days. I was fascinated by her analysis of cultural transmission and how it is transformed or broken in families who have suffered exile. Weeks later, I attended one of her lectures at the BNF.  I was so moved to tears that I was unable to speak with her and after a few days,  wrote her a note to express my experience of her words. Months later, she asked to meet me and over cups of tea in a charming tearoom in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris we shared experiences of how stories had in some way transformed us. This haphazard and at once succinct encounter reconnected me to my own creative process. It transported me back to the very initial intention of my entire project: our lost homeland of Sindh to which my Nani constantly provided a link, through her language, her mantras, her songs, her stories and her cooking.

Once I had handed in all the original drawings for the book, I slowly climbed out of my creative bubble and began reading and researching again. I came across some works which really struck a chord within.

In her graphic novel Estamos todas bien, Ana Penyas records conversations with both of her grandmothers, their experiences through the dictatorship, how they cope with ageing. By capturing scenes and objects from daily life, she evokes a whole range of emotions, tenderness and memory. As I had just handed my own manuscript to the publisher, I was very happy to know that other artists around me were involved in such similar endeavours as my own.


Although I have yet to see her documentary about Sindhi exile titled Sindhustan, I came across Sapna Moti Bhavnani's instagram account around the same time. A celebrity hairstylist by profession, she began recompiling stories and experiences of Sindi exiles. To pay homage to her ancestors she began tattooing representative images of each story in madhubani and ajrak style drawings on her legs. She explains it in beautifully in this interview.


The documentary was released in 2019, and is gaining international acclaim. On the official website of Sindhustan. Sapna writes about how she began the entire process:

"A decade or so ago, I was visiting India after living in America for 14 years. My body by then was considerably inked. One afternoon while lunching with my ‘nani’ (maternal grandmom), an inked woman herself, I found myself desperately trying to cover my inked body. She knew. She caressed my ink, smiled gently, and said, “Sapna, you’re so old fashioned”.

“You know, when we first came as a human race, we all had our markings, we all looked like you. Somewhere down the line we were told to wear clothes instead, shoes instead. Somewhere down the line, someone decided that’s how we were supposed to look. I’m happy to see you going back to our roots, your roots.” And this entire time I was getting inked rebelling Indina culture and expectations of being and looking like an “Indian” woman!

This was the afternoon that changed me forever.

My documentary includes stories from India and Sindh (Pakistan) and mine illustrating their journey on my skin using art forms like Arjak (Sindhi) and Madhubani (India) to tell the story of a land carried on the shoulders of its people and not rooted in any soil.

My legs, symbolising our journey and my feet, the lack of our roots."


The book Las visitas de Nani was finally published in Spanish in September of 2018, six years after having begun the process. Since then, there have been presentations and exhibitions in Madrid, Santander, Barcelona, Guadalajara and Mexico City. The exhibition in Madrid evoked to me recreate the mural I began during my residence; only this time, it included originals from the entire book, objets, gods and goddesses, photos, recipes, letters, spices and a life size family mango tree. I will write about it in a future post.


Photos of las visitas de Nani, by La Particular Estudio


Song of the day

Mr. Cardamom - Nani

Muñecos de papel con las fabulas de La Fontaine

El sábado 5 de Octubre, celebraremos nuestra vuelta al Instituto Francés de Madrid con un taller inspirado por las fabulas de La Fontaine.


Fotos de una versión anterior del taller en 2016

Trabajaremos con los muñecos de papel. Este formato de juguete de papel existe desde siglos, tras la aparición de la imprenta. Los "paper-dolls" eran juguetes faciles de producir y divulgar. Y sobre todo en un mundo post-guerra, eran muy baratos.


Plantillas antiguas de muñecos articulados


Añadiremos al formato tradicional unos encuadernadores para permitir que los personajes sean articulados. Leeremos cuentos de La Fontaine, recortaremos algunas plantillas con personajes. Una vez que montamos algunos muñecos y nos sentimos cómodos con la técnica, inventaremos nuestros propios personajes y repetiremos el ejercicio.


Plantillas diseñados para el taller

El taller empezara a las 11 con una duración de una hora y media para niños entres 6 y 11 años. Para inscripciones, gracias por comunicarse con el Instituto Francés.


Canción del día

Mercedes Sosa - Como la Cigarra

Un mundo dentro de un cuaderno

El cuaderno es una herramienta fundamental de cualquier proceso creativo. Dentro de un cuaderno se arma un mundo entero. Pueden vivir y coexistir todo tipo de investigaciones, de influencias. Con las herramientas digitales de las que disponemos hoy en día, y con las prisas de tener que crear y diseñar, a veces, como profesionales, saltamos el paso más importante del acto de creación. La costumbre de usar el cuaderno no es solamente un ritual bonito. Se trata de un espacio sin inhibiciones donde se puede experimentar, jugar y cometer errores. Muchas innovaciones nacen de errores. Muchas veces el trabajo intuitivo en los cuadernos tiene un valor creativo y una frescura que no llega al producto final.



En el taller Un mundo dentro de un cuaderno que se celebrará este septiembre en la librería Panta Rhei en Madrid, intentaremos captar esta frescura, este juego para que el proceso creativo pueda fluir de manera más orgánica. Trabajaremos todos con el mismo formato de cuaderno. Dentro de este cuaderno desarrollaremos técnicas para recopilar ideas, elaborar investigaciones e hilos conductores. Diseñaremos cuadernos de proyectos que ayudan a buscar y encontrar soluciones. Además de los cuadernos, los alumnos tendrán a sus disposiciones una amplia selección de materiales de dibujo con lo cual experimentar.



En la propuesta de este taller existen dos variaciones: el cuaderno de trabajo o el cuaderno de placer. En el primer caso, los alumnos están invitados a traer al aula todos los elementos que tienen de un nuevo proyecto recién empezado. En el segundo caso, jugaremos con el azar y al empezar el taller cada uno recibirá un tema ajeno que tendrá que trabajar dentro del cuaderno, o eligiera un tema que le apetezca explorar. Al terminar el taller cada uno se llevaran un cuaderno que contendrá todo el universo del proyecto dentro: investigaciones, exploración de paleta cromática, juego de materiales, referencias visuales y escritas, apuntes, bocetos, maquetas. Lograran usar el cuaderno como un espacio para almacenar todas las ideas del proyecto o de un tema.



El taller se dividiera en 3 sesiones de 2 horas a lo largo de 3 semanas. Tener una semana entre cada sesión nos permitirá a cada uno a pensar en los contenidos, coleccionar el material necesario, inspirarse e ir trabajando. Invitamos a todos los participantes de traer material visual y escrita que usaran para desarrollar el contenido del cuaderno: fotos, postales, imágenes impresos, textos; y también un estuche con el material de dibujo con lo cual se sienten más cómodos.


A L'École de papier, nos hace mucha ilusión empezar el otoño y celebrar el lanzamiento de la web con este taller.

La canción del día

Da Vinci's notebook - Hot Soup



L' École de Papier abre sus puertas en Madrid

L’ École de papier nació en 2014, a raiz de una reflexion sobre la forma de impartir talleres creativos. Tras haber trabajado temas distintos en cada taller, era obvio que había un hilo conductor. Lo importante era ofrecer un espacio donde pensar, jugar y experimentar con técnicas antiguas de objetos narrativos en papel.

Read more

at La CALA de Chodes.

My first encounter with La CALA occurred in autumn of 2015, when I participated in a collective exhibition about storytelling objects along with 3 other female artists: Elena Odriozola, Alejandra Fernández and Juliana Salcedo. Each of us had been working on creating different storytelling objects to narrate a classical or invented tale, a project initiated by Gustavo Puerta in his Escuela Peritatética.

A paper sketch of my piece. Photo by Rubén Vicente


Portrait with my piece. Photo by Rubén Vicente

I arrived at Chodes the night before the private-view, sleep-ridden after having spent almost 10 consecutive days and nights painting my piece in the kitchen. Little did I know then that this was to be "the beginning of a beautiful friendship" (from the film Casablanca, of course), and the first of many creative encounters.

The 24 hours that followed were full of surprises: discovering the other artist's work, sumptuous meals prepared by Grassa Toro, director of La CALA, a countryside walk, migrating birds, surprising encounters.

Grassa Toro at the opening talk of the private view, November 1st, 2015.


The birds timed their migration perfectly,


and the air was festive with celebration.


The most surprising was that, during the private view, guests we invited in to the gallery  in groups of 7 or 8 at a time, and though neither of the artists had prepared for it, we began telling our stories like ancient troubadours.


Beginning to tell the story of my Kavaad: Rudyard Kipling's The Elephant Child. Photo by Ruben Vincente


Having been so enchanted with the space, I began thinking about the possibility of doing an artist residence there to develop the originals for Las visitas de Nani, a children's book about my grandmother that I had been working on for several years with the publishing house Ediciones Ekaré. I had advanced very well on the research and construction of the story, having spent lots of time interviewing family members and collecting information. The storyboard was written, sketched out and even approved by the publishers months before. I just had to begin the final illustrations. And yet, I seemed to be stuck. When I visited La CALA, I felt that perhaps spending some days entirely dedicated to the creative process would give me the boost I needed to really enter the story. I was far from wrong. I arrived in Chodes in early February 2016, with suitcases full of paper, drawing tools, materials, research, family photos, notes and sketchbooks. I began working the afternoon of my arrival, drawing at a good pace. And then, I hit an unexpected brick wall. I couldn't draw the character inspired by my grandmother, I felt that I somehow needed to give my permission to tell my version of our family history.


A sketch I made during residence.

In a fit of frustration, I began putting up sketches and photos on the walls of the gallery space next door to the library- both of which I was told I could use throughout my stay. I ended up making a gigantic mind-map/constellation of the entire story, singling out keywords that guided me through every chapter.  I have already written briefly about my residence in a previous post titled about what's keeping me up at night.


Working on my mural constellation map during residence. Photos by Ruben Vincente


I honestly don't believe I could have continued the book had I not done the artist residence. And herein lies the magic of La CALA. It is a space dedicated to artistic creation. A space, in the countryside with open skies. It is a space that includes a house with a delightful chimney, an inviting kitchen and a comfortable yellow sofa; a garden with trees, flowers and a little black and white dog named Vaca (cow); a spacious garage that houses props for theatre production, a car, a huge freezer, sculptures and other surprising objects; a library full of all kinds of books and curiosities, a long wooden table where many writers, thinkers and artists have worked, a collection of artist books and limited editions, comfortable leather sofas and a big fluffy rug for having a rest, windows with view of the garden; a gallery that houses many individual and collective exhibitions.

Residences at La CALA are organised over a period of 9 days. During this time, the artist is given a room in the house as accommodation, and access to the entire library as work space. In my case, as there were no exhibitions at the time of my arrival, I was also given access to the gallery area. Over the 9 days the artist is accompanied by Grassa Toro, who provides all the conditions necessary to enable the creative process. This includes caring for basic needs such as food and drink, to suggesting books and material, critical analysis of the project, artistic direction, the list is endless. Basically, during the duration of the residence, the artist is accommodated in every sense so that they can concentrate entirely on the project. For this reason, the 9 days feel like a much longer period of time, during which one can immerse themselves into their work and live it intensely.

Following the residence, I have participated in various projects at La Cala. These include: the collective exhibition Reino Animal,  illustrating the images for Este cuerpo es humano, the solo exhibition of the original artwork for Este cuerpo es humano,  and the two day workshop Libro de artista.


At the summer party and closing of the exhibition Este cuerpo es humano. Photos by Ruben Vincente


And now, almost two and a half years later, the book Las visitas de Nani has finally been published!!! I will write about this in the following post. For now I will conclude in a tone of gratitude for La Cala, for becoming one of my many homes over the years, and for all of it's magic and creativity.



Song of the day

the exhibition opened

The exhibition Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human opened at La Cala on the 8th of April and will close on the 14th of August, coinciding with a garden party to celebrate Biblioteca La Cala.

The original artwork of any book is a work of its own. Though the book will have reproductions of the originals, these will keep on being an entirely separate collection of work. At least for me.

I love having exhibitions. It's a very different feeling to publishing a book. It's an invitation to look into the more intimate creative process behind the images. As I wrote in my previous post, the exhibition for Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human included two series of works: the original images made to accompany the text in their Japanese accordion book format, and a new series of images made from the negative silhouettes salvaged from each organ or organic system. This second series was begun simultaneously and finished after the publication of the book.

To display the first series of images, a beautiful glass case (of the museum and specimen kind) was especially made. The second series, which I wanted to have an x-ray effect, were framed and individually lit-up with leds.

The exhibition opened in early April, following a two day course on artist books that I gave at La Cala.


Preview of the exhibition with the participants of the course El libro de Artista, the day before the official opening

While planning for the show, I was fascinated by other exhibitions revolving around the body. Through my research I discovered the work of Romy Yedidia. Through her work she explores the representation of the female human body, the problems of indoctrination within propaganda and gender conflicts. I was especially moved by her performative piece 'Preserve x' 186 which she describes as the following: "The way contemporary media represents body image and its meaning quite often insinuates only overly sexualised portrayal of femininity. To deprive femininity from any contextual substance, and assign it only to a basic function of being a visual commodity for the other, is to reinsure perpetuation of one-sided, unequal, distorted constructs that do not offer any space nor potential for further growth. These circumstances situate women in malignant comparative position between what is imposed as a normalised image of feminine, and what they truly are. 'Preserve x 186' is my response to this perpetual brainwash. This performative sculpture series was executed by long casting sessions of my body parts. I was casted repeatedly in plaster in front of my every-day public surroundings. By materialising the pain of remaining still in an unnatural position, I protested the constant objectification of women and the expectation of them to remain silent."


Collections of cast body parts from ?Preserve x 186' by Romy Yedidia


Romy Yedudua performing 'Preserve  x 186'

I also looked to my constant sources of inspiration, such as Kiki Smith, whose work constantly questions the body in it's sexual, animal and mythological senses.


3 exhibitions by Kiki Smith exploring the body in mythology


Puppet and Siren sculptures by Kiki Smith

My exhibition, thanks to the meticulous curatorship by Grassa Toro and Ana Mareca, achieved a dramatic effect I could only have dreamed of, only part of which has been captured by the photographs below.



If you wish to see it in person, do join us at the celebration on the 14th of August at La Cala.

Song of the day

Max Richter - On Reflection...

Months ago,

Months ago, I began a second series of images for Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human. A series of images that would not be included in the book, but would rather, serve as a playful appendix, to be viewed during exhibitions.

I love this idea of creating images for a book whose intention is to remain unpublished. This isn't to say that the images were an afterthought, on the contrary, they were conceived simultaneously to the actual images of the book. Let me explain. While making the images for the book, I cut out the silhouettes of each organ or organic system from a page of an old anthology about Latin literature. I cut each silhouette meticulously, in one each, and delicately preserved the ¨negative¨silhouettes of each, pasting them on a sheet of tracing paper.


Series of "negatice drawings" in process


Among the definitions for negative, are the following two which seem aligned with my concept.

adjective: negative
consisting in or characterized by the absence rather than the presence of distinguishing features.
a negative photographic image made on film or specially prepared glass, from which positive prints may be made.
"photographs and negatives should be supplied for enlargement purposes"

Months into the process, I decided to make these images the negatives or the x-ray drawings, in black and white. While the original drawings respect the formal attributes of the organs of the human body, this series of drawings plays which what is suggested by the negative form. The digestive system is filled in by the shape of a flamingo ingesting a shrimp, the uterus is the head of an elephant, the penis is a squid, the vagina an ancient celtic symbol of a goddess, and so on and so forth.


From left to right: the respiratory system, the endocrine system, the nervous system


From left to right, top row: vagina, uterus, penis frontal, penis profile


During my research process, I looked back at medieval iconography, rich in symbolism and magical beasts.


Inspirational images for the negative image of the vagina. From left to right: Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg. Arme Christi / Side wound of Christ, or "The entrance to Christ's heart",  and two versions of A Man Enthroned within a Mandorla in a Tree, the first ca 1270, and the second, date unknown.

I found interest in the repetition and patterns of Tantric art.


Inspirational images for the negative image of the uterus. On the left: Pushpa Kumari "Mithila Painting", Untitled, 2004, Ink/paper, 30 x 22 in (76.2 x 55.9 cm) Courtoisy Cavin-Morris gallery. On the to right: Munan Tantra image.


I was fascinated by anatomical illustrations in both encyclopedic plate form as well as in illuminated manuscripts.

Inspirational images for the negative image of the penis. On the left: A cuttlefish: British Library Burney MS 97, f. 41v. On the to right: Mollusca. Octopus, squid, nautilus, and cuttlefish. The Animal Kingdom.


Birds, of course found themselves flying in and out of the series of drawings.


From left to right: the muscular system, the circulatory system


On the left: Illustrations for 'the bloody chamber' by Angela Carter by Katt Frank. On the right: bird-girl drawings, found on Pinterest, artist unkown.
From left to right: An onocentaur (half man, half ass) with a bow looks at a siren. These two are often illustrated together. J. Paul Getty Museum, MS. Ludwig XV 3, Folio 78r, Tamed monsters series by Lena Revenko, Manfishchicken from French medieval illuminated manuscript.
Left to right: Illuminated manuscript depicting Garuda. Prayer sheet to Lord Garuda.  Japanese mythological birdman.


Making this series of images was very different to the creative process that I engaged for the originals that were printed in the book. Both processes were games, though this one involved a more ludic type of play, one that made me laugh out loud at times.

Song of the day

Tim Buckley - Song to the Siren


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.

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.

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.

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