Over the years, the fondness for books in the hearts of readers has constantly grown. This is the kind of relationship which has withstood the test of time, as well as the onslaught of technology.  Despite advances in reading technology, this romantic love affair between a reader and an old-fashioned book has consistently scaled new heights. Does this mean we have come to regard books as works of art? Apparently, we have. Consider this ongoing exhibition in Mumbai, which is showcasing “book objects” and “book sculptures” as artworks.

The show, Zones of Privacy, hosted at the art gallery Chatterjee and Lal, showcases books as artworks. Curated by Rukminee Guha Thakurta, who also has a design studio named Letterpress, the show brings together various artists from across disciplines. Artists from cross-cultural backgrounds are participating in this one-of-a-kind show. On display are artworks by animators, graphic designers, photographers, painters, book artists, calligraphers and interaction designers. The exhibition features artworks by more than 20 artists comprising photographers Dayanita Singh, Sohrab Hura, Chandan Gomes, painter Nityan Unnikrishnan, illustrator Prashant Miranda and so on.

So why the title Zones of Privacy?

Guha Thakurta, who is a book designer herself, calls this act of engagement with books a very personal one and derives much creative satisfaction from it. She says, “All bookish activities like  reading a book, writing or drawing in it or the act of making one, are private activities; a delicious escape from everything around. Hence, the name.”

She also shares her insights about the exhibition: “Books as art is not a new concept. It goes back a few centuries, to William Blake. All the artists in this show who practise in various mediums have engaged with the making of books. They are all expressing themselves using the book form,” she says.

Quite interesting for the average viewer, this show takes the aficionado on a delightful journey. “The show lets you sit down and dive into the world of an artist. It is an intimate and tactile engagement for the viewer. Also, this is probably the first time in India that a show in a commercial space has been dedicated to so many kinds of books: sketch books, study books, book objects, photo books, book sculptures etc.,” adds Guha Thakurta.

The artists in this exhibition have simply made books or expressed themselves in books in myriad forms.

Illustrator and watercolour artist Prashant Miranda has contributed his sketchbooks, which document his life, to the show. “I had sent eight sketchbooks of mine of varied kinds and sizes for the show. I am a watercolour artist, and have been documenting my life and travels through my sketchbooks for more than two decades now. Some of my books at the show are of my travels in Assisi, Italy, my first trip to Paris, a Zurich sketchbook, Varanasi, Canada and so on. Some of them are large formats, others hand bound in leather, and my Jaipur sketchbox is a little box filled with my watercolours and writings from a trip in 2002,” he says.

A snippet of a sketchbook made by Prashant Miranda.

On what brought him to the show, Miranda says, “I have been doing this for more than 20 years. So when the curator Rukminee Guha Thakurta asked me to be part of the show, I agreed. I am involved in an online sketchbook school, and give talks and lectures on my visual journals. So it’s a natural extension of what I do.”

In this exhibition, some are journals of memory or records of events. There are sketchbooks, scrapbooks, study books and books dedicated to people close to the artists. There are many facets these books hold, conveying humour and darkness, melancholy and obsessions. By sharing these books with the public, the artists have allowed the viewer a glimpse of their innermost lives, a glimmer of moments when they were immersed in their private zones of bookish pastimes.

“Books as art is not a new concept. It goes back a few centuries, to William Blake. All the artists in this show who practise in various mediums have engaged with the making of books. They are all expressing themselves using the book form.”

Photographer Chandan Gomes has presented his book titled This World of Dew to the show. The book depicts the story of a little girl who loves mountains. “In between a photography assignment for a Jaipur hospital, I came across a notebook by a child. It is a soliloquy on loss and remembrance — a young child’s yearning for the mountains and my search for that child, whose nameless drawing book I found abandoned in the hospital,” he says.

This World of Dew by Chandan Gomes.

Zones of Privacy is quite a special show which holds deep meaning and brings us face to face with the depth and layers of human emotions. Will such an intense show travel places?

Guha Thakurta would like it to. She says, “The response to the show has been so enthusiastic that I feel it might be worthwhile to take it to other cities. But this show took a long time to put together and I would like to take a breath and think about it critically.”

Zones of Privacy is on till 3 September at Chatterjee and Lal, Mumbai.

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