Vanshika Agarwala On Producing Fanciful Fables Out Of Paper
Vanshika Agarwala discovered the art of papercutting when she came across the work of Beatrice Coron during one of her serendipitous Instagram scrolling sessions. Pursuing her masters at The London School of Economics, she had no prior background in art, but having always harboured a soft spot for sketching, the travelling, history and fiction enthusiast would doodle dreamily all over her textbooks.
After completing her masters in 2014, Agarwala took a gap year to rid herself of the ennui she had been experiencing. That’s when she decided to try her hand at kirigami — a variation of origami that includes the cutting of paper — and realised that she had a real knack for it. Thereon, she would always have a jumbled piece of paper on her table, learning as she went along. Kirigami was restricted to the confines of a hobby for Agarwala until last year, when she quit her job in investment banking to devote all her time to honing her craft. One year later, she continues to learn and make mistakes — in a Snakes and Ladders piece she recently made, she proceeded to diligently cut all the numbers on the board from 1 to 100 before spotting an error in the order of the numbers. It broke her heart to throw away her handiwork and start afresh but she admits that it has made her a lot more vigilant while working.
Excerpts from a conversation with the artist who narrates an entire story with just a few snips….
“I start by sketching the outline of the artwork I’ve envisioned on large sheets of paper, which I then cut with a scalpel. While I try and stay within the lines, the details are cut freehand to give it a sense of uniqueness. I then flip the paper over, revealing the completed piece, which is a mirror image of the drawing.
I am inspired by travel, architecture, fashion and fairy tales. I love things that are unpredictable and eccentric, and I always try and add a touch of whimsy to my work. One of my favourite pieces is called ‘Living on a Leaf’, which is my take on what life looks like within the veins of a leaf. I have created a city within a peepal leaf; it has buildings, houses, cars, trains, and even a monastery. Of late, I’ve diversified into 3D paper art and designed a Snakes and Ladders game as well.”
“Papercutting is an ancient art form in India, which has been passed down through generations of highly skilled craftsmen in Vrindavan. Known as sanjhi, it has remained shrouded in obscurity since the past few years, but efforts are now being made to lift it out of the shadows and make people aware of our country’s indigenous crafts. Although niche, paper art has existed since time immemorial and has great potential all over the world.
When I first started out, most of my excitement sprung from being able to cut along the lines. Since then, my work has progressed to become visibly finer, and I am able to incorporate distinguishable elements. I post most of my work on Instagram and get really chuffed when people comment expressing their disbelief at my work being a cutout and not a drawing.”
“I was recently commissioned to produce two pieces for The Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa. One was a leaf depicting everyday life in Goa within its veins. The other, called ‘Leafy Labyrinth’, was a large spiral giving the illusion of a complex maze, but was created using the simplest of elements. Another artwork that I created not too long ago was the skyline of a city illustrated on a single road within a spiral.
In the future, I hope to create large-scale installations where I can play with paper and shadows to create an interactive experience. As a matter of fact, designing a life-sized tree of life has been on the bucket list for some time now.”
“Sudarshan Shetty’s The Pieces Earth Left Behind showcased at this year’s India Art Fair has remained with me although some time has passed since the fair wrapped up. It was a collection of wooden renditions of everyday objects that included a microphone, a torch, a radio, a lantern, and a typewriter. I keep thinking about how much I would love to replicate this paraphernalia in paper.
I would recommend that kirigami enthusiasts follow Jeff Nishinaka (@Jeffnishinaka), Stuart McLachlan (@stuart_mclachlan), Zoe Bradley (@zoebradleydesign), Judith and Rolfe (@judithandrolfe) and Inti Velez Botero, Daniel Mancini and Iris Joval (@wandabarcelona) for their work in paper architecture. I also dream of collaborating with Danish-Norwegian psaligrapher Karen Bit Vejle (@ballerinabulldog) who is a professional paper-cutter and has lent her artistic expertise to international companies such as Hermès and Georg Jensen. The thought of displaying our joint artwork together at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London makes me break out into goosebumps!”
You can follow Vanshika Agarwala’s work at @vanshika.agarwala
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