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 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


we make artist books

Making an artist book is one way of telling a story.

In April, I will be giving a two day course at La Cala titled El libro de artista (The Artist Book)

 

A Little Story about How I Like to Tell Stories. A small handmade edition I made to explain my creative process, 2014.

 

During the course we will explore the art of creating books by looking, touching and making. We will begin by studying different formats of artist books, tracing their origin from illuminated manuscripts, books of hours, scrolls, concertinas (accordion books) to more contemporary formats. We will think about the the materiality of the book as an object, searching for coherence between content and format, use and aesthetic, narrative and material. We will debate over the principle of the Bauhaus which states: "Form follows function”.

 

An artist book I made inspired by Kipling's The Jungle Book. The transparency of the paper allowed me to create a sense of depth in the jungle, 2013.

 

Following a theoretical introduction, we will begin making and creating. Using a predetermined concertina format, we will each create our own artist book. The course will conclude with a small exhibition and critique of the work.

 

Original artwork from Este cuerpo es humano, 2017.

 

This course is open to photographers, musicians, designers, writers, artists, lawyers, illustrators, fishermen, firemen, cooks...the list is endless. Better said: it is not required to have previous experience, just curiosity and a desire to make something with your hands.

 

The Life of an Anchovy, work in progress.

 

The course will be held in La CALA on the 6 y 7 of April, 2018. From: 11h. to 14h. and from 17h. to 21h. Inscription fees: 200 € including 14 hours of the course and two nights in an individual room in a rural guest house nearby. For more information and to enroll, click here

Convocatoria en español:

En El libro de artista exploraremos, a través de la vista, el tacto y el hacer, el arte de crear libros singulares y hechos a mano. Arrancaremos el curso estudiando distintos formatos de libros, haciendo un recorrido desde los manuscritos iluminados, los libros de las horas, pergaminos, concertinas hasta formatos más contemporáneos. Pensaremos en la materialidad del libro-objeto, buscando la coherencia entre el contenido y el formato, el uso y la estética, la narración y la materia. Debatiremos sobre el principio de la Bauhaus: "La forma sigue a la función”.

Tras un inicio teórico, pasaremos a la creación. Usando un formato de libro acordeón preestablecido, cada uno crearemos un libro de artista propio. El curso se cerrará con una pequeña exposición y critica de las obras.

Dirección: Karishma Chugani Nankani. Máster en Edición. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. MFA Design Futures. Goldsmiths College. BA Fashion Design with Printing. Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. Foundation Course in Art & Design. Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design.

Público: La convocatoria se abre a fotógrafos, músicos, diseñadores, escritores, artistas, abogados, ilustradores, pescadores, bomberos, cocineros...la lista sigue. Así dicho: no es necesario tener experiencia previa, sino solamente curiosidad y ganas de crear algo con las manos. Modalidad: presencial, en la sede de La CALA. Duración: 6 y 7 de abril de 2018. Horario: de 11h. a 14h. y de 17h. a 21h. Inscripción: 200 €. Incluye 14 horas de curso y dos noches de alojamiento en habitación individual en Casa Rural. A través de https://lacala.es/cursos-talleres/#inscripcion

Song of the day

Joanna Newsom - The Sprout & The Bean