This week I had the pleasure of attending a talk at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery by Tara Books, a remarkable collective of writers, artists and designers from India who publish illustrated books for children and adults. They produce limited editions, hand-printed and bound, of works, ranging from religious and mythical subjects to stories of their everyday lives. The books are created through a complex process starting with the artists’ originals, through to screenprinting and then binding the pages into books. While there are some editions printed with the more conventional lithographic process, most are all hand-made, numbered limited editions.
Their visual books span a range of genres: children’s literature, social and art pedagogy, popular culture, photography and art. They are committed to returning the senses back to the physical book in an age busy writing its obituary. They value experimentation: in content, design and production.
Tara Books say, “We also like to enhance the quirky pleasures of reading, for both children and adults—from picture books for all ages to experimental graphic narratives, we have developed new genres of expression.
“The hallmark of our publishing is our engagement with the rich diversity of Indian folk and tribal art. We have brought many of these traditions into the book for the first time, by combining them with contemporary design and fine production, and in the process, have changed the perspective from which stories are usually told. Our books are universally accessible, and for us universality is not global sameness, but a genuine connection with difference.”
Tara are well-known for books made entirely by hand and they have created a range of what may be called ‘crossover’ picture books. Children are drawn to the tactility and graphic richness of the art in these books, while adults value the fine printing, unusual paper and brilliant design.
While such artists’ books exist in small editions, Tara are able to create them in large numbers, making them affordable and available to the average book buyer. They create this exquisite form of the book—where each page is an individual print—to showcase beautiful artwork. They work with skilled book artisans from India, including handmade paper manufacturers, silkscreen printers and hand binders. The artisans have developed their skills to come up with standards of perfection unimaginable in the trade, winning several international awards.
Recently, Tara have gone on to explore the fascinating field of crossover titles in other forms—for example, the textile book.
This exquisite hand block-printed textile book that takes its inspiration from an ancient tradition of textile art called Mata-Ni-Pachedi. This painstaking work of art and labour is a unique offering that doubles as a book and art object.
Tara’s ongoing dialogue with the incredibly rich and varied forms of indigenous tribal and folk art in India began 15 years ago.
Tara Books adds, “We are privileged that in India, unlike in many parts of the world, these artists are our active contemporaries, ready to engage with us. Many of the artists that we work with come from remote and marginalised communities, but as is evident from the books themselves, their talent, intelligence and imagination are inspiring.
“Whatever direction a particular project takes, there is one basic premise on which our collaboration is based. We would like each artist to be an ‘author’, the active creator of a book. So when we work with an artist from a particular tradition, the book is not ‘about’ this tradition—it is not a documentary. The book is a gallery space which is offered to the artist to tell a story. We work intensively with them, developing the possibilities, pushing the boundaries both for the artist and for the book form. As publishers we play a curator’s role: linking art, story, design and printing and finally the book with its readers.”
At the Fruitmarket talk, Tara Books showed extracts from short films about their process, which you can see at Vimeo. They also highlighted, among other works, a new project, a fold-out book called The Cloth of the Mother Goddess. The images here don’t do it justice, however – the book is a beautiful object, tells a story, has a wonderful tactile quality and is abundant with rich and beautiful imagery.
The books are available from Amazon and elsewhere, but I recommend you seek out gallery bookshops that stock the Tara range, since these are books to be experienced as well as read.