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Paper Duets: A show where song, text and paper come together

The ongoing exhibition features works by 24 artists from across the world, who have worked in pairs to showcase the versatility of paper

‘Zindagi Ke Safar Mein’ by Inku Kumar and Vijay YVCS, Photos: Gallery Art Motif

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An ongoing show at Gallery Art Motif, New Delhi, is paying an ode to the versatility of paper. Titled ‘Paper Duets', it features works by 24 artists from across the world, who have worked in pairs to create these pieces. Through the project, the artists have pushed their technique to ‘clash and synergise’ with their partners. This has resulted in close-knit engagements, while building empathetic relationships within the paper art community.

Artist Ankon Mitra conceptualised the project during the first nationwide lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic in 2020. “Three weeks into the lockdown, it felt as if we had been socially isolated and quarantined for years. I am an introvert by nature and do not claim to have many friends, but I thought this was also a brilliant opportunity for artists to make new friends, talk, debate and co-create,” he says.

Mitra presented the idea to the Paper Artist Collective (PAC), based in London. Soon after, Mala Aneja of Gallery Art Motif came on board to host the show. After an open call to PAC members, 24 artists paired up based on their ideas and techniques. The logistics to collaborate across time zones and geographies, and shifting of art works across the globe was daunting. “The artists spent a lot of time on WhatsApp and Zoom calls and emails. There was absolutely no funding or sponsorship, so it is the incredible generosity of spirit of the artists involved that has made this show possible,” says Mitra.

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He also requested the artists to think of music and language in the concept as well. For instance, in the collaboration of Inku Kumar and Vijay YVCS, Kumar selected Hindi songs based on the Kaharwa taal, while the latter worked with the 16-grid mandalas. The rhythm of the songs fit seamlessly with Vijay YVCS’s origami. The process, however, was tedious. Vijay folded the tracing paper modules, unfolded them into sheaves and then sent a bundle of these from Mumbai to Kumar in Delhi. Kumar then layered his calligraphy, based on the lyrics of Hindi songs, onto the modules, attributing a ‘mood’ to each mandala.

Abhishek Dutta and Naman Shroff, on the other hand, responded to words from the Indian national anthem. Mitra explains, “They scanned the first 4-5 lines of the sheet music. The visual proportions of their work were then structured, based on the note placements and the spacing of the horizontal bars themselves. I thought this was particularly ingenious and a really wonderful way to make the connection between the heard and the seen.”

JV Calanoc and Stevi Benson also interpreted a sound in their sparse and sublime work. Inside a paper-cut shape of a Nautilus shell, they placed the visual of waves of the sea. In one single visual, they powerfully conveyed the idea of how we hear the sound of the sea when we put a conch shell to our ears.

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To Mitra, such collaborations are the way forward. In his own practice, he works closely with designers, architects, craftspersons and other artists. “Artists find it very difficult to collaborate and co-create work. It could be unwillingness to cede creative ground. Nevertheless, this kind of barrier must be broken down in the art world. Afterall, creatives who collaborate are far more successful than artists who just sing their own song and dance their own dance,” he says.

Paper Duets can be viewed at Gallery Art Motif, New Delhi, till 30 September, Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm

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