The pop-up of the Borneo bay cat, a little-known wild feline endemic to the Asian Island it’s named after, uncoils precisely like my own domestic shorthair, all fluid grace, lissome strength and wary mien. On the other hand, the Antiguan racer lunges suddenly out of a page, faster than the reptile it represents: a snake so sluggish and docile that mongooses imported to the Caribbean Islands to protect colonisers’ sugar plantations from rats nearly decimated the species. A tiny yellow fish peeks from behind a colony of staghorn coral in one paper artwork, while in another, a pack of Ethiopian wolves fan across mountainous terrain, lit by a rising sun.
All these paper artworks are part of Keerthana Ramesh’s new pop-up book, My Friends Are Missing, a collection of pop-ups of 30 endangered species. It began with her wanting to distract herself during the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic, says the Chennai-based paper artist and designer. “It was becoming too much,” she says. “I wanted something that would help me stay sane.”
On May 21, to mark International Endangered Species Day, One Million One Month—an organisation that seeks to drive awareness about endangered species through art—launched a 30-day-long Instagram art challenge. Every day that month, the platform focused on different species on the brink of extinction; Ramesh decided to participate in this challenge. “I love plants and animals, the outdoors…but, I was locked inside,” she says, adding that she had thought that it was a great way to learn more about these plants and animals. Also, she adds, a perfect excuse to learn pop-up paper engineering. “I’ve wanted to learn how to make popups forever,” she says.
She was already familiar with paper cutting, having taken an elective in it while doing her master’s in social design at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, three-odd years ago. However, popup she learnt by following tutorials she found on Youtube. She also researched these animals extensively, trying to find everything possible about them. “I wanted to see how the animal moved and behaved,” she says, pointing out that this understanding was necessary to translate the species into a popup.
Earlier this month, she showcased the final copy of the book on Instagram: a red-bound tome, bulging with popups of 30-endangered species from all around the world. She says that she is now hoping to get it published and is hunting for publishers. “It has been one of my dreams-- to publish a commercial popup book,” she says. ‘This helped me get my foot in the door.”