Sunday, February 25, 2024


Reawakening Paper in India

The exhibition ONPAPEROFPAPER was curated by the architect and sculptor of paper folds Ankon Mitra and Apparao Gallery on occasion of INDIA ID – art – design – architecture, February 15 – 18, 2024 at NSIC Grounds, Okhla, Delhi.

75 exhibitors mainly from India showed their work with paper in a C-shaped space surrounding the inner symposium hall at the venue. One half of the C - shape was dedicated to white works, the other half to colored work.

To understand the selection of work it is necessary to investigate Ankon Mitra’s own work and his passion.

Ankon Mitra is the director of “The Folded Universe” and has taken up the old traditional Japanese technique of origami (ori meaning folding and kami meaning paper) which originated in 17th century  in Japan and taken it to new heights. He has named his branch Oritecture.  Many architects start sketching their ideas on tracing paper and build their models in paper, but Ankon’s ideas begin by folding and shaping paper, dealing with three dimensionality and mathematics. He is obsessed with the fold. His models mainly turn out in paper but can also be produced in metal or other material. After Ankon has created his models, his studio staff will help produce often very large constructions.

Ankon is passionate about paper in all its forms and has taken on a tremendous amount of work to organize OnPaperOfPaper in collaboration with Apparao Gallery and his staff. It is admirable to contribute to the reawakening of paper in India, which is needed. One of his aims is to make an Indian Paper Triennale. Several countries in the world have since 1986 set up one Paper Biennale after the other, so why not india?

When the need for something begins to vane, a society invests the material itself with cultural value. The use we formerly made of paper changes, and we focus on paper as a medium – a medium for artistic expression.

The group of exhibitors, designers, architects and artists, Ankon had invited were mainly from India, which gave a good opportunity to observe how far the direction of expression in paper has moved in India in relation to the tremendous amount of possibilities cellulose has to offer. We were a handful from Europe and the USA.

 In the exhibition only approximately 10 out of 75 showed work made with handmade paper. The rest of the participants were using industrial produced paper or mould made paper, recycled paper, cardboard, or honeycomb. Many works were diverse paper cuts, and origami, some stitched paper, rolled paper, or cut ups in white or colored industrial paper. Some work was made of paper maché, crepe paper, others were made with paper crochet, paper knitting, paper twine, macramé or found paper It gave an overall variety of available paper, one can buy, but I missed to see the many technical possibilities handmade paper can offer. Handmade paper can express a soul in an artwork and the real fundamental knowledge of what kind of paper  material one uses was not present in many of the works, although there was an incredible amount of work. It somehow floated together in and out of the brownish box like display. The bombardment had its impact as an overwhelming symphony of a need to express in any paper most often in an architectural or design direction, very often with an underline of craft more than art. Unfortunately, the lightning was not good enough, which must be excused. It was not an easy task to display so much work within the space and to adjust light depending on a wood beam construction, covered with jute cloth.

Handmade paper.

Handmade paper is defined by dipping a mould with deckle into a vat with fiber and water and lifting the mould, so the water can drain. In a handmade paper the fiber is intertwined within the paper space, which makes the handmade paper strong. Its capacities depend on beating time, water quality and the fiber which has been used. Handmade paper can be made very  thin and take on an immense variety. Pulp can be obtained from all plant cells. Cellulose must be extracted from the plants: non wood pulp from linen, flax seed, kozo, gampi, mitsumata, lokta bark, bamboo, wheat or rice straw, jute, esparto grass, elephant grass, sunn hemp, kenaf, nettle – the possibilities are endless. Textile rags can be used, which is most often the case in India and of course recycled paper, which is not always sustainable. The floating pulp can of course be used as well and cast on plaster or other material to obtain the final expression.

A characteristic feature of handmade paper as a material is that it has aspects belonging to history, geography, biology, ecology, cultural history and aesthetics. It is a material meeting most of the requirements that artists may have for a material for graphics, painting, sculpture, photo, installation, interior/exterior design/architecture, fashion, furniture, lighting, books, music, and performance. Work expressed in and with handmade paper has a clear and definable style.

So how come most part of the exhibitors is not experimenting with handmade paper? After talking with many of them, I realized that many do not have an insight into the history of paper nor the Indian paper history or the variety of possible materials and techniques that papermaking has to offer.


Each country has a history of paper which often reflects the history of the country. So let us look shortly on India’s paper history.


In India textile ranks the highest within the arts and crafts, paper ranks the lowest. There is no respect for paper and no knowledge about the handmade paper process. Paper is sold with the label “handmade paper” even though it is not. One of the exhibitors told me she had bought and used handmade hemp paper even though it was clearly mould made. Mould made paper simulates handmade paper. The mould is not held by the hands but replaced by a rotating cylinder, which picks up the paper pulp from the vat in a mechanized process. The paper has a length, which the stronger handmade paper does not have.


Paper is not just paper but has to do with cultural history and aesthetics.


The art of creating handmade paper in India has a “wounded” history. The more than 2000 -year-old craft, invented in China, travelled via Korea and Japan towards the West. It took 1000 years before it reached Europe and more than 1000 years to reach India. Some claims that paper could have been invented in India in 250 B.C. (Chauhan and Meena). The general opinion is that handmade paper was introduced to Northern India in the 13th century by Arab merchants.

Before The Mughal Empire, 1526 – 1857, paper can only have been used by very few for religious purpose in the very Northern part of India. Coming from Central Asia the Mughal emperor Babur brought his craftsmen to document mainly his life at the imperial court in writing and miniature painting. He brought Kagzi families, who could produce handmade paper from hemp and jute. It is interesting to compare the handmade paper history during the Renaissance in Europe 14th – 17th century to the history of handmade paper during the Mughal Empire. Never has more beautiful and long-lasting handmade paper been produced. Mughals played a great role in the flourishing of the Indu – Islamic civilization and were patrons of art, culture, architecture and literature.

With The British Empire – British Raj, 1858 – 1947, the Kagzi families began suffering as the British forced India to give preferential treatment to foreign goods: industrial English paper. The Kagzi families struggled to survive.

Gandhi, 1869 – 1948, urged the Indian population to spin their own cotton, a movement named Khadi (derived from Khaddar”, a term used for handspun Indian fabric), part of his Swadeshi movement, established for social and economic reasons, as a protest of British goods. Gandhi is often seen on posters and photos sitting in front of his spinning wheel, spinning his own cotton. Implied in the movement is that everybody can spin and weave their own cloth, and everybody can make handmade cotton paper out of rags! This further put pressure on the Kagzi families, who for many generations had been trained in the old craft. Implied is also a lack of respect for tradition, skill, and generations’ knowledge about the art of papermaking.

The above historical periods ruined the former beautiful handmade paper quality; the art deteriorated and handmade Indian paper turned into a production of cotton rag paper, waste material from textile units which in the 21st century often is mixed with synthetic fibers that create knots in the final handmade sheet.

When I asked some of the exhibitors why they do not use handmade paper, their reply was: it is too thick and not flexible enough. This answer expresses a lack of knowledge of how fibers can be produced. It has to do with fiber material, water quality and beating time. (Beating time takes place in a stamper or a Hollaender beater). With that knowledge very strong and very thin paper can be created – paper with a soul and expression that cannot be replaced by industrial paper. Very few exhibitors had made their own paper and few their own pulp.

Has the old art of papermaking survived in India? There are very few places where the traditional method is in use. In Sanganer, the Hussain family still uses the old method. In Kolkata Anupam Chakraborty makes very fine handmade paper of plants and teaches as well, In Bangalore Blue Cat produces mainly mould made paper. In Pune there are few places, but they do not make paper as before. In the small village Kagzipura  in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, they made handmade paper of cotton rags. INTACH - National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage has held workshop here to train artisans and revive the craft.In Ahmedabad Kalamkhush Handmade Centre is about to be moved to another location, and in Udaipur their are two papermills producing mould made paper of cotton rags. Few artists hear and there are taking up the old craft and experiment with plants for example at bhasha.centre - Adivasi Academy. So, there is a handful, which is not much in such a large country. And often paper producers claim that they make handmade paper, which they do not.

A panel discussion took place during the venue to focus on an eventual Paper Triennale in India. In this context I find it is important to define what one means when talking about paper. How does one classify paper?

The very first paper biennale took place in Düren, Germany, at the Leopold Hoesch Museum in 1986. The focus was on how handmade paper could be used as an artistic means of expression. Then after a while this original beginning began to spread into paper biennales in many more countries All kinds of paper of industrial produced thin white or colored synthetic paper sheets, made of synthetic resin, made to have properties like paper and a multitude of many other qualities of paper appeared. The Italian Lucca biennale is sponsored by the carboard industry, so the biennale shows an enormous number of cardboard sculptures on every corner of the streets.

We live in the 21st century where we are all threatened by climate change. We must think about sustainability and bio production. In this context handmade paper is a good choice Further it speaks to our 5 senses: handmade paper has a sound, it can be eaten (think about John Cage’s Edible Papers), plant paper has a smell of nature, it has tactility and visually it attracts the eye.

Artists working with handmade paper are experimenting with numerous plant fibres and have always for the most parts worked sustainable and pointed towards the many possibilities of paper. Parallel with the growth of technology and globality a plant/paper research and innovation have and are taken place on all possible levels. The biodegradable mushroom mycelium has been taken up by designers and architects to make new products.

Scientists have experimented with seaweed as insulation material and plan to make the seaweed insulating material in sheet form. Now "balls of the Neptune" are gathered manually on the coast of the Mediterranean and are imported to Germany from Tunisia and Albania. The insulating material from seaweed under the name NeptuTherm is offered today on the market by the German company of the same name.

On the internet one can find numerous models how to build NASA spacecraft models in paper inspired by paper cutting and Nasa seeking novel folding/origami-based patterns and concepts for packaging a large radiation shield within a single launch vehicle that can be deployed around a Mars vehicle in cis-Lunar space. This challenge seeks creative ideas that can be shown using diagrams, graphics, 3D models, or animations that at a minimum show the stowed and deployed configurations.

Within the paper art the future goes hand in hand with technology, 3d paper printing, computational origami, innovative and renewable materials, that all offer opportunities for increased use of paper, and other cause changes in demand for different grades of paper.


The traditional Chinese and Japanese technique of paper-cutting, the art of cutting unique designs in paper, may be the key to the development of lightweight, super portable, and sustainable power sources for devices including remote controls, watches, and temperature sensors.

An Indian Paper Triennale?

It is important to learn from the past if one wants to look far ahead. We create our work now, but also for the future, we do not know. To create it is important to know one’s material in depth. Paper is not just a surface, it contains nature: plants contain cellulose. Nature is the force responsible for the appearance and transformation of any object or idea that will ever exist.

An interesting aspect could be that India could lead the way for showing innovations in paper. Creating a Triennale that specifies what paper truly is in its inner core. It is important to make references to India’ s history of paper and the original historical way of making paper. Only in this way can paper obtain respect as an art form in India.

 Some of the latest innovations of paper are Nanotechnology, Biodegradable Paper, Sustainable Manufacturing, Micro-Fibrillated Cellulose (MFC) 3D Paper Printing, which could be shown parallel with the use of methods of the past.


The initiative by Ankon Mitra is admirable. With OnPaperOfPaper he made sure that paper came in focus in Delhi and the observers were excited. He raised awareness of an almost lost art form. For a future Paper Triennale support is needed. All the exhibitors supported with their work and many by their presence and the social interaction between the participants were important and inspiring for many. But support must also come from foundations.

In 2022-23 I curated the exhibition Paper – A Cross-Cultural Voice with 7 Indian selected artists and 6 from Europe and USA. The focus was on handmade paper as an artistic means of expression. The exhibition was supported by Danish Foundations and shown at The ArtCenter Silkeborg Bad, Denmark, from Oct. 1, 2022 – Jan.8, 2023 and at the Kasthurbhai Lalbai Museum in Ahmedabad from Feb.18. – March 18. 2023.  The most important in curating this exhibition was to raise awareness of handmade paper as an artform especially in India. Out of the 7 Indian invited artists 5 were also exhibiting at the OnPaperOfPaper exhibition. So small seeds have been planted for yet many more exhibitions to come in India with focus on paper.

Anne Vilsboell            


Litterature on Indian Papermaking:

One of the exhibitors: Neeta Premchand: OFF THE DECKLE EDGE, A PAPERMAKING JOURNEY THROUGH INDIA - 1995 : check also Kagzi article from 2014

                                                 A Cavalcade of few of the exhibited works:

                                   Ashwini Bahri x Vasanth Packirisamy                                 

                                                                        Parth Kothekar 

Pippa Dyrlaga

Pratul Dash

Abhimanyu Singh x Shilpi Dua (Flexible)

Kunal Kundu 

                                   Michael Velliquette x Anaïs Herd Smith                                     

                                          Kanishka Jain                                     

Venus Bird x NayanShrimali (The Paper Ark)

Jenny Pinto

  Ankon Mita and Sanmitra Chitte      

                                                     Manas Joshi                                                      

Deepti Nair x Hari Panicker

                                            Piyusha Patwardhan                                           

                                                                 Olie/Amrita Nambiar                                                                                             

Abhishek Chakraborty

Bandana Jain


                                                     Anne Vilsboell

Friday, June 19, 2020

INDIAN ARTIST - handmade paper as an artistic means of expression/research/short version

 INDIAN ARTIST - handmade paper as an artistic means of expression

Visiting the Kochi Muziris Biennale and the Delhi Art Fair 2018-19 I noticed a growing interest in using handmade paper as an artistic means of expression among the exhibiting Indian artists.. Here I’m not talking about artists buying handmade paper to draw and paint on, but artists who use pulp, their own produced paper or manipulate pulp and paper in untraditional ways as an artistic statement.

Since 2000 I have returned to India each year, focusing on and following the development of its contemporary art scene as well as tried to locate the remnants of the old papermaking tradition in India during extensive travels.
In an attempt to get an insight in the development of handmade paper as an artistic means of expression in India, a questionnaire was sent with to the following artists:

Anupam Chakraborty, Jenny Pintu, Kulu Ojha, Neeta Premchand, Radha Panday, Ravikumar Kashi, Shantamani Muddaiah and Sudipta Das.

              Sudipta Das, Soaring to Nowhere, Hanji paper and watercolour, 48 x 48 x 36 inches, 2018. Courtesy Lattitude Gallery 

The following is answers by the questioned artists to 13 questions:

1: Where and from whom did you learn to make paper?
When I compare the answers to question 1 the majority of the questioned artists have learnt papermaking abroad: three from Jacki Parry at Glasgow School of Art, an Australian born artist, printmaker, papermaker, former lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art and a founding member of the Glasgow Print Studio and the Paper Workshop, two in Korea by Chang Son and Seong Woo and also Puli Paper Mill in Taiwan, one at the Paper Institute in Kochi, Japan, from Hamada San, and one in USA by Catherine Nash and Timothy Barrett. One is self-taught and has taken a workshop at Kumarappa Handmade Paper Inst., Sanganer, Jaipur.
2: Why did you choose to work with paper – what is it you find interesting about paper?
Sudipta Das answers: My encounter with the contextualised use of paper as a medium for my work started as a solution to the technical difficulty I was facing during my education in Santiniketan. As I started working with memories, personal histories and the layered presence of history in our identity, I was collecting historical evidence and other documents which have carried history through photography. It is from this desire to use those photographic images that I started working with paper. Soon I found that paper is one of the best mediums for my expression as its fragility and its ability to absorb tints of colours can be contextualised with the histories of fragmentation and the layers of memory that I worked with. It is from this aspect that paper becomes an important way for me to express and contextualise my personal histories of migration and the anxieties of being an immigrant.
Anupam Chakraborty, who has chosen to place paper in the centre of his artistic praxis since 20 years cannot think of any other medium that can be equally fascinating. He states: only those who have made paper themselves can get the experience of the versatility of papermaking. Ravikumar Kashi points out the tactile quality, the malleability and organic nature with a long and ancient history, connected to knowledge/books. He finds it a challenge to lift handmade paper out of its stigma as belonging to craft. All the questioned artists find that pulp and paper contain tactility, texture - ality, fragility, two - and three dimensional possibilities and that the more you experiment with it the more doors will open for manipulation.
3: Do you consider yourself a hand papermaker or a paper artist, and do you feel there is a difference?
There is a widespread agreement among the interviewed artists that there is a difference between a hand papermaker and a paper artist.
None of them consider themselves hand papermakers. Radha states: hand papermakers work with qualities of the sheet that make it suitable for specific works. Jenny considers herself a paper artist and that the difference is in vision, interpretation and output; she says that one has to understand the material. Ravikumar considers himself a paper artist, but he does not want to be labelled as one, as he also uses other materials. He says that a hand papermaker makes paper for its own sake. Anupam considers himself a paper artist and that refers to a creative individual, involved with handmade paper as a means of artistic expression. Kulu says that technically he might be a considered a paper artist; his actions are solutions to a number of environmental issues. Shantamani is a sculptor and installation artist, who explores fibres and pulp for architectural and sculptural forms, and she states the same as Kulu that her actions are solutions to a number of environmental issues. Sudipta will rather call herself a visual artist, but do not oppose to anyone calling her paper artist, as she primarily work with paper. She writes that categorisation just on the basis of mediums are shallow and constricting without the understanding of how paper or papermaking becomes a medium of expression.
Jenny is right, that the more one knows one’s material the choice of artistic output grows and becomes richer. It means a lot to commit oneself to work professionally with paper and it will, if you give in to this medium, absorb you profoundly as one will discover that it contains everything and can be everything. As Kulu says: the language of paper surpasses the language of man.
Concerning categorization: society loves categorizations to get things under control. The importance here is that an artist is proud of her or his professional choice. I find a slight hesitation in the answers among the questioned artists towards being labelled and I think it is due to the ingrained Indian perception of craft versus art issue, which we will touch upon in the following. Neeta has an interesting remark: during her studies she wanted to know the difference between how paper was looked upon in India and Japan. In Japan it is an art to make paper and there is respect for the craft and the craftsman. She finds that there is a lack of respect for paper in India.

“Life in Our hands" a community project done with Settle Stories, Yorkshire, UK
Video with Cotton rag pulp
4x3 meters, 2019
Photo credit: Mallikarjun Katakol

4. Do you teach others papermaking?
All the inquired artists have given paper workshops in one way or another  apart from Kulu, who is”trending “ people to use paper as their primary subject for art. Jenny teaches only design interns and has given bookbinding workshops. Shantamani has guided a rural woman sustainable project through paper products and given few workshops. Sudipta teaches children now and then and organizations on invitation, Radha teaches and give lectures in India and aboad and Neeta has given workshops in England, Switzerland and India. Ravikumar have conducted workshops in his studio, at art schools, architectural colleges and art museums.
Since 2005 Anupam, who has founded the Nirupama Academy of Handmade Paper in Kolkata, is offering hands-on training/ workshops to individuals, groups, students at academic institutions, government and non- government  organizations employees at his Academy and elsewhere. He states that he has taught more than thousand individuals.

5: Have you studied the history of paper in India or abroad?  If you have ever visited paper mills and paper artists in other countries, what were your impressions?
Radha: I studied Japanese papermaking formally first with Catherine Nash at Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Maine, US for three weeks (2005). Four years after this I went to the Philippines to study with Asao Shimura for 2-3 weeks. I learned how to make western style papers but using a su/geta( Japanes mould for papermaking)  with banana fibres, Kozo as well as pineapple fibres. I also learned how to make shifu (Japanese paper thread), and learned about growing and using konnyaku( Japanese impregnated paper). It was a huge learning to see artiss in their own studios and spaces and notice how their work space was made to fit their needs. Asao got a lot done with very simple set ups and very simple machines. 
The next paper-related international travel was to the Friends of Dard Hunter conference in 2010 where I met Timothy Barrett, Peter Thomas, David Reina, Jim Croft and Catherine Nash again and others. Here I decided to apply to the University of Iowa Center for the Book graduate program and started there in 2011.  The following year I visited the historic mill in Capellades, Spain. It was amazing to see all the history we had been learning about in school come to life.  The year after that I went for the IAPMA* conference in Fabriano, Italy, another eye opening experience to see historical examples of watermarking technology and tools; as well as meeting others in the field and hear about their work in paper. As for books along the way before I went to Iowa - I read
 A Papermakers Companion, by Helen Heibert, The Complete Book of Papermaking by Josep Asunción, Off the Deckle Edge by Neeta Premchand

Ravikumar says in one of his answer: People find it (making paper) interesting, but not many continue the exploration.
Anupam has after his stay with Jacki Parri for half a year at Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, where he got an insight in Western and Eastern papermaking techniques, mostly done research via books and articles. He has visited Dieu Donne Paper and Carriage House Paper in NY, Two American well known places in the paper world with a very fine set up.

Jenny has interned with Helen Hiebert in Portland, Oregon and met with many US based paper artists. She has visited Dieu Donne, NY, visited one IAPMA* exhibition and done 3-4 workshops in book binding in the US. Apart from that she has visited paper mills in Pune, India, a kagzi in Sanganer and Pondicherry. Jenny writes that she was impressed with many of the artists’ work in the West and she thinks Indian artists should be more exposed to possibilities of the material.
Kulu has never studied the handmade paper and Shantamani, Ravikumar and Sudipta has mainly searched in India and in the East. Sudipta has received a Greenshield award and is documenting various centres of papermaking such as Jungshi handmade paper factory in Thimpu, banana fibre paper, Indian manufacturers in Assam and Lokta manufacturers in Katmandu. Shanthamani has visited Khadi Gramodyoga in South India, but she is still depending on paper produced in Europe. Ravikumar has met other artists working with paper during a Hanji show in Chennai. He has visited papermaking units in Bangalore, Pondichery, Ahmedabad, Sikkim, Jaipur and Shantiniketan in India and in Mexico, South Korea, Glasgow and Nepal. He finds the Jang Ji Bang studio,Seoul, South Korea,  very professional and thorough in their method - ology.  

Neeta has done thorough historical research abroad as mentioned before including the Silk Road, Xian and Samarkhand, but also in India. In the 90’s she became interested in the study of paper used for old manuscripts and discovered that from 1980’s – 1990’s most of the papermaking units she had seen and photographed had been destroyed, but there was a lot of paper on the market. The last mill she visited was Daulatabad, where they were famous for making thin paper in the 17th century. When she visited the mill was about to close down and spontaneously she bought it. She revived it and opened The Bombay Paperie.
6: Do you use mainly local plants/fibres in your paper production or do you import fibres from abroad?
Anupam only uses indigenous plants that grow in West Bengal and in other parts of India. Shantamani uses recycled 100 % cotton rag pulp from Tirupur textile industry and states that banana fibre and jute fibre are easily available in the southern part of India. Sudipta has made paper from banana fibre and waste material. She has bought Hanji paper from South Korea – it depends on the need and the demand of the work she is making. Jenny and Ravikumar use only Indian fibres. Radha imports fibres and is looking for a good quality hemp in India. Kulu uses readymade paperboard for his cuttings. Neeta uses her own paper from Daulatabad and old paper.
I sense a lack of broader investigation into what is possible with different plants and their bio based capacities. India has such a huge potential – there is a lot to be done!

White Memories, cast cotton rag pulp, 9" x 9", 2019
Ravikumar Kashi

7: What do you know about the Kagzi tradition in India, and does it inform your paper making practice?
Most artists express that the kagzi tradition as such has not and doesn’t enlighten their paper practice.
Anupam, Neeta and Radha have studied the history of paper in India and researched it on their own. Radha has written articles about it and is currently working on a deeper research project, which is going towards a book. She also teaches workshops on the subject. Neeta wrote about kagzis in her book Off the Deckle Edge as mentioned before.
Sudipta states: for me the Kagzi tradition in India speaks not only about traditional papermaking practice but also about multi-culturalism and Indo-Islamic history. She feels that the kagzi tradition can show us pathways into making paper that is ecologically more beneficial.
I agree. Today one can find a lot of historical writings about India and paper history and there is inspiration to be found in these writings. Following FN’s 17 sustainable development goals in order to transform our world, paper and its history can open up knowledge and show one of the ways to go.
8: How is hand papermaking received in India today?
Here again the questioned artists seem to agree that there is a very slow growing interest. Paper is seen as eco-friendly, but there is a lack of awareness, lack of visibility, creative intervention and lack of marketing strategy. Indian handmade paper industry does not have a systematic and planned marketing for its promotion on a wider spectrum according to Anupam. You do not see handmade paper in the market and even in art colleges you do not see much of handmade paper and in the publication and design area, we see very few efforts in adopting handmade paper, Shantamani says. Jenny names it a niche –market, but a growing market in the bottom of the list of materials compared to other hand crafts, due to lack of knowledge and demand. Sudipta says that through the consciousness and the practice of many contemporary artists it is receiving more attention than before.
The conclusion as far as I see it is: that paper eventually will reclaim its position. Cellulose is beginning to win territory as research and experiments are taking place at universities all around the world. India should follow up on this at their universities.

Title: Trail-III

Medium: Handmade paper (linen yarn, banana & ramie fibre) & back lit box, 2019
59 x 31 x 3 in, Anupam Chakrabroty

9: Why do you think papermaking and the scribal arts in India have been less able to rise from their roots than the textile tradition?
Sudipta writes that earlier we have not understood and paid attention to the amazing traditional skills present around us, which has led to stagnation to the practices. Today through research artistic approach scientific experiments and more global awareness will make the former practices dynamic again.
Jenny finds that textile was far more evolved in India from very early on and that weaving was a developed craft all over the regions. Paper was from the beginning for limited purpose for art with royal patronage.
Shantami agrees with Jenny concerning textile and that there are very few good hand papermaking units producing good paper. India is a developing country which thrives to acquire what is in the first –world market other than looking inward in terms of developing a sustainable product within its available practices. A lot of indigenous knowledge systems are surprisingly still alive in India and there is a greater opportunity to develop them further.
Anupam states: following areas can be considered for negligible growth in hand papermaking and scribal art from their roots compared to textile tradition: a) lack of professional skills among implementing agencies, b) Poor quality measures, c) Inadequate research and development programmes, d) Absence of aggressive marketing strategies, e) Lack of involvement of artists and designers in the R&D ( Research & Development) and production team.
Ravikumar suspects that it is because of government polices and mentions Weavers Service Centre and Pupul Jaykar, who was instrumental in the revival of textiles. No such effort has been made for paper.
Radha mentions that at the time of independence, KVIC did the wrong thing by introducing auto-vats and training the average person to make paper and that this was the final blow to the kagzi tradition. She also mentions lack of government support and interest. In Neeta’s experience the Khadi commission did the biggest disservice to the paper craft by showing a total lack of interest in the quality and never made any great effort to sell the paper or pay the papermakers. She also mentions that the quality of cotton available in India has a poor quality. With most of the waste from GM cotton, the yarn is too loose and knots when made into pulp. This leaves holes in the paper when it is produced thin.
The conclusion is that nobody really supports the revival of the ancient craft of papermaking.
Today – in 2019 – I have the hope that artists will revive this craft and art, which has been the case since 1950 in the West and by their example push KVIC etc. to see the sustainable and bio based quality of paper as a new way to go.

The city has layers of expression,  91cm x 60 cm,  Paper Board, cutting
Kulu Ojha

10: Do you think the Khadi and Village Industries Commission change its approach as it sees the growing market for exported paper?
Shantamani writes, that the approach should aim at innovation within the field instead of still training basic industrial skills and nothing else. Ravikumar has given a proposal to the Khadi commission to do an intervention project, but without response. He states that paper made in the Khadi papermaking unit are unimaginative. Jenny finds that KVIC does not understand what needs to be done for handmade paper. Sudipta writes that KVIC should change their approach due to the growing market of exported paper: It should not only encourage the traditional process of papermaking but also inspire them to make a viable alternative to chemically treated paper through collaboration with artists and researchers. It could be India’s contribution to the solution of ecological distress by factory made, chemically treated paper. Anupam writes: Some major positive changes have been noticed in this regard since last few years. It has been observed that KVIC is presently grappling with problems on the supply side, and not on the demand side. It is one of the reasons that KVIC has been concentrating on its production facilities across the country through the help of all its supply chain agencies. KVIC, which falls under the jurisdiction of Ministry of MSME, is also thought of providing incentives and shops for start ups in the MSME segment. KVIC also assists export of khadi and village industry products through Export Incentive Scheme. Besides these, KVIC also supports khadi and village industry institutions as well as REGP units and state boards for participation in international trade fairs abroad. The fairs not only provide an opportunity to find new buyers but also expose the participating units to the quality, packaging and standard of similar products from different countries. The knowledge enables them to suitably reorient the production and process to access foreign markets as well as prepare them to compete with the foreign products coming to local markets in India.( Note: This info Anupam has obtained  from MSME & KVIC  websites and from uploaded research papers related to this area through Google search – the info is from 1990!)
These different answers tell me that KVIC is not doing enough in relation to FN’s 17 World Goals: In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 goals for a better world by 2030. These goals have the power to end poverty, fight inequality and address the urgency of climate change. Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone. Here KVIC should direct paper production towards the innate possibility of handmade paper production: sustainability by setting up collaborative workshop with artists and designers all over India.

11:   Do you think they (KVIC) could spearhead the revival of more traditional paper production for use by conservators and artists?
The artists’ attitude to this question is not reflecting a lot of expectations, but a tiny hope : Anupam writes: They could if they can transfer their weakness into strength and Shantami: Awareness and market opportunities will make a huge difference. Sudipta finds that the revival already has started through the hands of artists who are using handmade paper more and more, making it themselves or searching for better qualities in India or abroad, and also through curators, galleries and researchers, who have a growing interest in the old techniques. It is a slow process, but I think eventually India will get there in 20 – 30 years acknowledging its wealth existing in production of quality products and involving qualified engaging people!

12:   How do you envision the development of handmade paper and paper art in India’s future?
Shantamani: There is a greater possibility to develop the handmade paper into a sustainable system in India. We have an example of providing 20 women a decent salary in a rural area to sustain their families. If this project is getting attached to microfinance support system, it can revolutionize women’s economic independence. In 2004, there were no handmade paper studios in Bangalore. But today we have three artists working with the basic amenities. Things will surely change in coming days. Sudipta believes that handmade paper will become an alternative to the environmentally harmful chemical treated paper. It needs to be recognized by the administrative machinery in India to make it happen.
Jenny  and Anupam state that paper has to be introduced in academic curriculum in government and private schools, art and design schools.   Ravikumar sees a growing interest in artists’ communities. He also states that the influence slowly has come from abroad – e.g. the students, who studied with Jacki Parri: Anupam, Ravikumar and Shantami. Radha states that she hopes people will be proud of their heritage.
Anupam mentions the Indian Bengali sculptor and printmaker Somnath Hore ( 1921 – 2006) as one of the first Indian artist who used handmade paper as an artistic means of expression. Hore is considered a major pioneer of modern art in India. He experimented with different printmaking techniques and materials, culminating with his abstract paper pulp series “Wounds”, produced in 1970.
An Indian artist I would have liked to include in this project is Priya Ravish Mehra (1961 – 2018) who studied weaving and design at Santiniketan. Priya had what I would call a holistic view on textile: the plant, which becomes thread and is woven into cloth – a cloth that again can be transformed into paper pulp and get a new life as paper pulp. In her later work she fused paper pulp with cloth and looked upon this as a healing process. This concept has been part of my practice for the past 40 years and I’m very sad that I never got to meet Priya. She knew one of my teachers, Japanese Yosiko Wada, based in San Francisco.  With Yosiko, Priya made a workshop: “Bearing Witness” in Delhi in March 2015, Habitat, hosted by the Lila Foundation.
Another artist who is worth mentioning in this context is Zarina (Hashmi) born in 1937 in India. Paper is her passion and central to her practice as a surface to print on and as a material with its own properties in history allied also with literary tradition. In the 1980s, she literalized this interest by casting three-dimensional works with paper pulp, creating forms that would become cast bronze sculptures.

Further the young artist Aniindita Bhattachary engages with tradition in a dialogue with the contemporary world, claiming India’s heritage in her beautiful hand cut jalis in wasli paper, painted with gouache and her own colours from natural dyes, coffee stains and  miniature paintings. (Wasli paper is created by gluing together several layers of handmade paper with archival glue, polishing and smoothing the surface by hand to prepare the paper for miniature painting.)

Anupam says: more artists, designers, papermakers and creative entrepreneurs must take initiative to set up professional papermaking studios at different parts of the country. Besides these, a body of dedicated paper artists must introduce interactive sessions through hands-on training, slide presentation, seminar and exhibition throughout the year to make this medium a viable one.
Being a dedicated papermaking unit, Nirupama Academy of Handmade Paper conducts papermaking workshops, provides papermaking kits to academic institutes and individuals and also involved in doing collaborative projects with artists and designers, government and non-government organisations throughout the year. Papers produced at Nirupama Academy have been used by many artists, designers and private organisations in India and abroad. K.G. Subramanyan, Linda Benglis, Amar Kanwar, Priya Ravish Mehra, Mithu Sen, Yardena Kurulkar, Natalie Vassil, Marinos Vlessas & Maria Malakou, Thinley Rhodes, Maku Textiles Pvt. Ltd., Philip Qian, Jeannie McArthur Koga, Hoang Tien Quyet, Anne Vilsboell and many more are in our client list. By experiencing increasing demand of our paper among artists, designers and in corporate houses, I am quite optimistic that quality handmade paper and paper art will play a formidable role in India’s future.

I personally met Anupam in 2009 in his studio in Kolkata and felt very happy that someone was doing something for handmade paper! I ordered paper from him and find that he ever since has come a long way pursuing his passion and in spreading knowledge. More artists will follow, but it means to choose paper as one’s medium and have good reasons to do so. It is a rewarding journey.

Forest Light: A forest of Fir in the middle of a city transported me to a space in which only I existed along with  the tall trees that surrounded me. The diffused light that filtered through the canopies and made apparent the details of each tree, had a special quality of quietude and tranquility that I had never before experienced. I had found my place in the world, and it was here, in the quiet and slowness of nature. Forest Light is a tunnel book that is created using handmade Kozo and hemp papers. The back panel is a sheet of waxed Kozo that diffuses the light entering the tranquil forest scene. This book began as a dimensional illustration that was used as a book cover for a classic Penguin publication of a book of poem’s by the 16th century poet, Tahir Ghani. Radha Panday

13:  Are you in contact with the other paper makers or paper artists in India or abroad?

Radha is in touch with papermakers and paper artists in the Western part of the world having studied at Iowa University with Timothy Barrett, taken workshops, participating in paper conferences and giving lectures and she is surely one, who has decided to transfer actions in paper knowledge to a broader audience.  Shanthami is familiar with a few artists in Southern India, Ravikumar is in touch with Asian artists, he has met at biennials and triennials, Jenny with very few and Sudipta knows Anupam and Ravikumar. Anupam is in touch with Western and few Indian artists. Neeta has Bombay Paperie and I can only encourage all artists who search good quality paper to visit her shop. She sells handmade paper with 4 deckle edges, unlike the 2 of machine made “handmade paper.” She would be delighted for the paper to go to people who knows the difference.
Unfortunately a lot of paper is on the market as “handmade paper” without being so. This fact presses the market for real handmade paper

I think it is time now for Indian artists who work with paper to meet and perhaps create an association and spread the news of such an association to all art schools and design schools, to KVIC etc. – to make yearly conferences, newsletters and exhibitions together. Study what Friends of Dard Hunter did in USA and what IAPMA did in Europe. A community of like minded people will grow and a group is always stronger than one person.
My hope is that this article will create awareness and make the 8 selected questioned Indian artists acquainted with each other. I’m sure there must be many more following, so that India can build up its own 21st century paper family.
Anne Vilsbøll 

* IAPMA: The International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists.

Anne Vilsbøll  Danish artist, author and curator has been involved with handmade paper as an artistic means of expression since the early 80'ties. From 1986 - 2000 she was editor and president for IAPMA, The International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists. She has curated exhibitions, written books, numerous articles, taught at art academies and design schools many places in the world, given lectures on the subject as well as showing her own art internationally and nationally for the past 36 years. (  - –
Anne Vilsbøll’s art is the result of intense innovative and inspirational research into the hidden potential of paper as a tool for modern means of expression. She has been acclaimed as one of the pioneers among a number of remarkable artists who during the past sixty years have searched to revive the lost form of the ancient craft of papermaking as a contemporary art form.( Bogomila Welsh – Ovcharow in Anne Vilsbøll-the language of Paper, Edition Heede &Moestrup, 2011).