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

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

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



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


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.

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.

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



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"

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.

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



to tell stories,

To tell stories we delve into our memories, our past experiences, into other stories, from other times. We turn to our imaginations, we learn from the imaginations of others. We remember the stories we were told as children, that our perhaps were told to our elders when they were children, and to their elders when they were children.

In The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling, Ben Okri writes: 

No civilization ever became great on knowledge alone. Indeed it is the imaginative dimension of civilizations which gives them distinction. What would ancient Greece be without its tragedians, its Parthenon, its Homeric epics? What would ancient Egypt be without its pyramids, its temples? Imagination dreams what that which knowledge makes real. It could be said that imagination is the porto-reality. A people can only create what they can imagine. If in some mysterious way we fall short of the ancients, it may be because we have long ceased to cultivate, to the highest degree, the fruits of the imagination, of the spirit. That despairing cry from the Bible should always haunt us. “For lack of vision my people perish.” . . .  How do we awaken imagination? How do we awaken vision? One of the ways, passed down to us with cunning simplicity by our ancestors, is storytelling.” 

To tell stories, we speak, we write poetry and prose, we make images, films and animations, we compose songs and lullabies. 

Cover image from Lire le monde, Michèle Petit. Ed. Belin

Emphasizing this very need for storytelling in Lire le monde, Michèle Petit  writes in the first person as if speaking directly to a child: 

"I give you songs and  stories so that you can repeat them to yourself through the night, so that you will not be too afraid of the dark and the shadows. So that slowly you will not need me, will think of yourself as your own distinct little subject, will elaborate the multiple separations you will need to face. I give you snippets of knowledge and fictions so that you can equally symbolize absence and affront - as best you can-  the big human questions, the mysteries of life and death, the difference between the sexes, the fear of abandonment, the unknown, love, rivalry. So that you can write your own stories between the lines you have read."

This was translated to english by me, to the best of my capacities. I am quite certain it doesn't do justice to the beauty of the original text, which I have included here below for those of you who do read in French: 

"Je te donne des chansons et des récits pour que tu te les redises pour traverser la nuit, pour que tu n’aies pas trop peur du noir et des ombres. Pour que tu puisses peu à peu te passer de moi, te penser comme un petit sujet distinct, puis élaborer les multiples séparations qu’il te faudra affronter. Je te livre des bribes de savoir et des fictions pour que tu sois à même de symboliser l’absence et d’affronter, autant que faire se peut, les grandes questions humaines, les mystères de la vie et de la mort, de la différence des sexe ; la peur de l’abandon, de l’inconnu, l’amour, la rivalité. Pour que tu écrives ta propre histoire entre les lignes lues."

To tell stories, we make things with our hands.

We paint, we draw, we stitch and embroider, we sculpt, we create objets, we make books. We make artist books.

An ‘artist book’ refers to a publication that is created as artwork in its own right. It can said that the very first books in human history were artist books, though the content may have been created by one artist, the text manuscripted by another and the images illuminated by a third. This the case for ancient illuminated manuscripts, scrolls (also called phads in India), concertinas, books of hours, religious scriptures, among other formats.


This illuminated manuscript, "The opening of the Sixth Seal," is from the Morgan Beatus, 10th Century.  Maintained by the Morgan Library and Museum, New York. Source: Awesome Stories.
Ancient Indian scroll or phad titled Sky Battle of Kurukshetra


A Gujarati religious text on palm leaves between acacia wood covers; probably from the 1700's. Source: Columbia University


The book is a medium that allows an artist's work to be more accessible. The reproduction of the work - whether in limited edition prints, etchings, printmaking or even through photocopying - gives it a potential to reach a larger and more varied audience. In this way, the artist book can be an incredibly powerful storytelling object.

While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that they share in common. They reflect on the properties of the book form itself. The book is not merely valued for it’s content, if not for its form as well. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visual or linguistic (or both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The dialogue created between the text and images, the printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone.

In preparation for a workshop dedicated to the artist book that I will be giving in April, I have amplified my collection of research on the subject.

In this post, I would like to share some of the book artists that have caught my attention, some all time favorites, and some new discoveries.

Katsumi Komagata is a Japanese graphic designer, turned book-maker and publisher. In several lectures I have heard him talk about how his initial fascination for making books began when his first child was born. He says that he tried to imagine his child’s curiosity for how the world works, and wanted to create simple objects that she could interact and play with. This resulted in a collection of beautiful, geometric object-books (livres-objets), some of which can be enjoyed below.

Little Tree, a book that shows the life cycle of a tree, through the seasons. Source: One Stroke


Details from Little Tree, by Katsumi Komagata


Yellow to Red. Tokyo : One Stroke ; 1997 ; 2003 ; 2005 / Du jaune au rouge. Édition bilingue français-japonais. Tokyo : One Stroke ; Paris : Les Trois Ourses, 2014


Details from Mountains (left image) and Blue (right image), by Katsumi Komagata.



I recently came across the work of book artist Mar Goman. The images below come from her website, which I recomend visiting. I have not included captions because no additional information about the pieces can be found on the site. I am including a small selection of the images that most intrigued me.


Selected works by Mar Gorman



Tara Books, an independent publisher from Chennai, India describes its mission as "pushing the boundaries of the book form in an age that is busy writing its obituary". As well as featuring traditional artists and artisans whose narrative traditions are in danger of extinction, they make a series of handmade books using block printing, exquisite hand-made khaki (cotton fibre) papers, and even cloth.



The Cloth of the Mother Goddess by Jagdish Chitara


The Cloth of the Mother Goddess follows the tradition of painting a cloth as an offering to the goddess Durga. The book is block-printed on fabric and designed as a foldable shrine, which a similar format to the Kaavad, a portable story-telling temple from Rajasthan. Though it can be argued whether a kaavad qualifies as an artist book, because it is made of wood and resembles a piece of furniture more than a book, it's principle purpose is to be manipulated by the kavaad-bad (storyteller) to turn the doors (which serve as pages) and unveil the story.



A kavaad I made inspired by the text The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling. More information here

There, of course, is more. A lot more. So much, that this post will be continued in several posts over the next weeks. These weeks, in which I will be reading, writing about and celebrating telling stories and making books to tell them in.

Song of the day

Tracy Chapman - Telling Stories


With these hands

Este cuerpo es humano · This Body is Human, written by Grassa Toro and translated to English by Claudio Cambon, concludes with a chapter about hands:

“This book ends here, at the very moment when we remember that the hands that wrote it, drew it, printed it, transported it, gave it, held it up as they read, turned from one page to the next, and closed it after just a few seconds look like, very much like, the hands of the animal who, for the first time in the history of evolution, put a fish in a pot of boiling water and ate it. That’s when this whole mess got started.

Hands dislike having nothing to do. The End.”

While thinking about the kind of image I wanted to make to accompany the text, I realised I wanted it to be an ode to hands, celebrating “the sixteen bones and several dozen muscles and tendons that hang down from our arms” which make us human.



I wanted to spend a moment making an image that reflected the capacity our hands permit us to make things, to create, to be artisans, whether is be cutting an onion or embroidering an image of the human hand. I have always been fascinated by everything hand-made, I marvel at how with practice one can acquire new hand made skills. I am saddened by the fact that while digital and industrial tools have evolved impressively, so many hand-made traditions are slowly dying out.


On the left a photograph of artist Louise Bourgeois. On the right her drawing of tools.

Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman writes very eloquently about this in Labours of Love, an article he wrote for The Guardian:

“All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. By one commonly used measure, about 10,000 hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician. As skill progresses, it becomes more problem-attuned, such as the lab technician worrying about procedure - whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle just to get things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply about what they are doing, once they do it well.

Two centuries ago, Immanuel Kant casually remarked: "The hand is the window on to the mind." Modern science has sought to make good on this observation. Of all our limbs, the hands make the most varied movements, movements that can be controlled at will. Science has sought to show how these motions, plus the hand's different ways of gripping and the sense of touch, affect the ways we think.”


Hand drawings and hand-stitched panels by Louise Bourgeois


Hand-embroidered panels by Louise Bourgeois

As the book ends with a chapter about hands, this will also be the last in this series of posts about my creative process for the images of this book. I will write more about hand-made techniques in future posts. For now, I wanted to write about my website, which was made public just a few days ago. It may seem contradictory to write about digital formats in a post dedicated to all things artisanal. On the contrary though, the site includes an online portfolio which displays a range of my hand-made work. As well as announcing the launch on social media, here in this blog-post, and via email, I made a series of limited-edition hand-cut and hand-written cards which were sent off in the post on Friday. I love the idea of keeping up the tradition of sending cards and letters in the post, of writing them by hand and posting them off physically.

In this small documentary, MH-Edtions (laser-cutting printers) with whom I collaborate frequently, talk about the tradition of sending new years greetings. My laser-cut Christmas garlands can be seen in the background of their studio.




If you do receive one of these hand-made wishes, know that they are the negative silhouettes of hands, hearts, craniums and brains, all of which were cut to be glued into copies of the book as personalised dedications. Myself and Grassa Toro will be signing the book at the upcoming presentation of Biblioteca La CALA at Panta Rhei, Madrid on Thursday the 25th of February. Hope to see you there!


Song of the day

Sus Maos - Caetano Veloso