Wordplay and Whimsy: Priya Pereira’s Book Art

NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) currently features an exhibition showcasing works by book Mumbai-based artist Priya Pereira. The artist explores Indian culture, history, time, and language in her contemporary creations. Ten of her books will be on display until November 18, 2016.

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Book artist Priya Pereira; Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Pereira received her training in graphic design from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Bardoa, Western India. After graduating, she worked for five years in advertising, which later came to inform her artistic mindset. Pereira says, “Having studied graphic design and thanks to advertising, I came to artists’ books from a place where ‘idea’ was the most important thing… The most thrilling part is coming up with an idea.” In 1993 she moved to the United States to study computer art at Memphis College of Art. In a papermaking class at school, she learned about book binding and began creating book art—a genre she did not know existed until years later.

Pereira returned to India and continued to create books: innovative, vibrant works of art. Beyond using traditional materials like paper and string, Pereira incorporates mirrored surfaces and iron. Her books prompt viewers to rethink the medium’s limits. Whimsical, bold—even comical—her work tackles the complexities of contemporary life in India. The artist cites “living and breathing in India” as a major source of her artistic inspiration.

In one work, The Book of F (1999), the artist uses wordplay and humor. Each page of the small book has short lyrics composed of words that start with F. Pereira describes it as “dotted with ditties that popularize the ‘F’ word without once mentioning the most used and abused word.”

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist's book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Priya Pereira, The Other Side of ABC, interior, 2003; Artist’s book published by Pixie Bks, Photo: Lee Stalsworth

NMWA’s exhibition also features a set of booklets titled The Other Side of ABC (2003). Their structure and composition recall that of a child’s toy. Pereira explains, “The structure of the book is based on a street toy sold by the wandering balloon sellers along with plastic watches and other cheap toys. The original toy is not an alphabet book, but has pictures of different fruits, modes of transportation, et cetera, and in the center is a piece of glass, not a mirror as I have used.” The interiors of Pereira’s booklets reveal depictions of Indian street art as well as letters surrounding the mirrors.

Priya Pereira has published limited-edition works under the imprint Pixie Bks for the last 23 years. Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see a selection of the artist’s books, and use an in-gallery iPad to scroll through the pages of ditties in The Book of F. Located on the museum’s the fourth floor, the LRC is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1–5 p.m.

—Casey Betts is the summer 2016 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.