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A new pop-up book by Chennai-based paper artist is dedicated to 30 endangered species

Saving her friends from extinction: The list of species doesn’t have any native to India but draws attention to a global call to protect endangered flora and fauna, many of which are facing habitat loss due to the climate emergency

UPDATED: July 14, 2021, 09:00 AM IST

Things in the natural world have a tendency to pop up when you least expect them—like mushrooms that spring up overnight or a tigress pouncing on unwitting deer. That element of surprise and sense of wonder is part of a pop-up book by Chennai-based design researcher and paper artist, Keerthana Ramesh, 28. On July 12, Ramesh posted a video on Instagram of her book of 30 endangered species, titled My Friends Are Missing. On each page is a creature cut and crafted from paper—a Seychelles sheath-tailed bat unfurls its gossamer wings; a sunflower sea star rolls to the centrefold; and a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle paddles about in an invisible pool.

Ramesh made the 30 species as a response to a month-long social media challenge hosted by One Million One Month, a non-profit project that aims to raise awareness about endangered species through art. The project follows a United Nations report from 2019 that warns of how one million species are at risk of extinction due to human activity.

The list of species doesn’t have any native to India but draws attention to a global call to protect endangered flora and fauna, many of which are facing habitat loss due to the climate emergency. In Ramesh’s book, a golden viscacha rat disappears into a burrow, its home lost to olive plantations, and a magnolia species blooms, though there are only eleven of its trees left in the whole world.

Ramesh made the 30 species as a response to a month-long social media challenge hosted by One Million One Month, a non-profit project that aims to raise awareness about endangered species through art. (Photo: Keerthana Ramesh)

“It’s a curated list of species. The research for each species involved watching lots of documentaries and nature videos. I prefer videos to images because they give a sense of the species’ environment and how it moves,” Ramesh says. The design researcher, who graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Baltimore, UK, spent five to seven hours each day making her paper creations. Once the 30 species were made, she bound them together into this pop-up book.

Her favourite species to craft was Hygrocybe pakelo, a species of mushroom from Hawaii that owes its name to its slippery nature. The word “pakelo” means to slip. “I used a mechanism that is usually used for flowers in pop-up books. The top unfolds and becomes whole. It was the only pop-up that I had to make again and again,” she says.

My Friends Are Missing is a personal project, meant to archive her work, but she will approach publishers in the future to take this further. Ramesh makes paper art as a personal interest and for commissioned projects, cutting sheets into intricate motifs, patterns and landscapes. But paper engineering—making paper move—is a new path for her. She says she was “obsessed with paper and pop-ups” from a young age and took an elective for a semester in college in paper cutting as a stress-breaker. However, it was only during this pandemic that Ramesh fulfilled her teenage obsession, learning from paper engineers on YouTube and creating her debut pop-up book.

In the light of how human activity can harm other inhabitants of this planet, Ramesh has used scrapbook paper that she had stocked up since 2010 and “only barely reached out for fresh sheets of paper for this project”.

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