Judge these books by their covers

Published: 08 December, 2012 10:11 IST | Fiona Fernandez |

Currently, her artist books form part of the British Library's new major exhibition � Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire. A rare talent from the Subcontinent, whose craft has found new acclaim in the West, Priya Pereira's craft synergises Indian and Western elements. The Guide spoke with the Mumbai-based artist about this lesser-known art form that allows for seamless imagery to take centrestage

What piqued your curiosity towards this unique, rarely known art in India?
It was not curiosity that led me to artists’ books, but a set of circumstances. I was six years and 26 books into it when I learnt of the art form.

Take us back to the time when you were creating your first artist book...the unknown territory that came with it, excitement and so on.
I went to Memphis to study in 1993. I missed Tony, my boyfriend and just knowing the time in Bombay brought us close. The time difference was not a quick calculation for me. So a book arose out of that need. Time Bound made a silent entry into the world of artists’ books but ten years later the British Library in London acquired it for their collection. Tony and I now work together on artists’ books.

Most of Priya’s works are unique and tell a story with minimal text and a riot of colours, shapes and handmade designs

You’ve been doing this for nearly 2 decades — what has been the single biggest challenge for artists’ books to reach a wider audience?
The nature of the medium is its strength and undoing. It is not a book in the traditional sense, and as an art form, it is an alternative art. Recognised by the world’s museums, it is still an infant compared to painting.
The problem with artists’ books is isolation in India, buyers are abroad, and travelling is expensive. To that end, I have been fortunate in winning the Charles Wallace India Trust Award twice, in 2004 and 2012 to work on artists’ books in London.

Could you tell us about the feedback, globally? Were people surprised that Indian artists were using traditional ideas and motifs?
Making artists’ books with Pixie Books, is deeply satisfying and I also feel very successful as, in my small way, I am doing my own thing, I have the best museums buying my work like the MoMA in New York; Yale University, New Haven; Tate in London; The Pompidou Centre, Paris or The Bibliotheque Louis Nucera, Nice.

This April, I was invited by the Rhode Island School of Design and The Pratt Institute, NY to present my work to students and staff. Also, this September, The Nehru Centre, London held an exhibition of my books.

Priya Pereira.
Priya Pereira. Pic courtesy/Meenal Agrawal

Buyers and curators abroad are surprised since they have never met a Book Artist from India so far and also because they find the books different. Still, I am sometimes accused of not having enough of India in them.

What’s on your palette,presently?
An artists’ book for Hafele India Limited is being launched this month. Juergen Wolf, their MD, believes that it is a great corporate gift as the company is offering a limited edition work of art! Another book based on sacred threads in India, conceptualised in 2005 has now been ordered by the Victoria & Albert Museum, and individual collectors abroad. A new adaptation of the Wish Grill and Book Jacket have been selected for the British Library, London’s new major exhibition, titled Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire to be sold through their store till April 2, 2013.

EMAIL pixiebks@hotmail.com 

Now showing >> At the british library in london
The Wish Grill (plain and mounted versions) inspired by the trellis at Fatehpur Sikri, where yellow and red threads are tied by pilgrims to fulfil wishes. The Book Jacket (right) is inspired by Mughal motifs. Both are on display at the British Library in London. Pics/Shadab Khan

Dummies guide to artist books
An artist book is created by the artist, so the name. Such professionals multi-task across various media like illustration, typography, poetry, art, design, book binding, colours, fabrics and textures.

Most artists’ books are unique, self-published, or are produced by small presses in limited numbers. The book’s structure is usually retained while in many cases, the size, shape, text sequence and typography assume new dimensions. The origins of this book form was in France at the turn of the 20th century.  

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