Paper Trails

Mumbai-based contemporary artist Bandana Jain’s name is now synonymous in the art community with corrugated cardboard – a material she gravitated toward more than a decade ago. She gives us an insight into her love of this unconventional material, her inspirations and take on sustainability. By Amrita Shah

Bandana Jain at an art and design exhibition with her work in corrugated cardboard.

Recycled corrugated fibreboard hardly seems like a material art collectors would like to display on their walls, but Bandana Jain’s faith and persistence in using this sustainable medium over the last decade has paid off. Jain began experimenting with cardboard during the final year of her BFA at the JJ School of Arts in Mumbai. The various textures, thickness, different type of ridges in the material – everything appealed to her and she would’ve used the material in her final project if only the school hadn’t been so closed to innovativeness. After she graduated, she traversed the length and breadth of Mumbai researching the material – going door to door to the small scrap dealers and paper recycling plants across the city to collect samples and study the difference in different types of cardboard.

Bandana Jain with her cardboard sofa.

Jain has always believed everything in life has a purpose – so why not art she reasoned. So it’s not unexpected that the first piece she created was functional art using corrugated cardboard – a sofa for her own house. Further experimentation with useful objects for the home followed, and with support from her community, Jain went on to create a successful brand that specialised in home décor items and furniture using cardboard and fibreboard.

Bondage, art from cardboard.

Jain’s career took off on a more creative tangent when she displayed her work at D/code 2018, a premier art and design fair in Mumbai. Patrons recognised the artistic value of her work and urged her to focus more on art instead of the products she had become associated with. A series of solo and group shows over the last few years, culminating with ‘The Brown Age’ that was held in both Mumbai and Ahmedabad in 2022 pushed Jain into the spotlight with art collectors, architects and the art fraternity in India.

Button Drape, from the Drape series of art.

Drapery Art by Bandana Jain.

Hailing from a village in Bihar and growing up in a joint family in a palatial home, Jain vividly recollects the ladies of the house stretching out their sarees to starch and dry in the courtyard. The image of fabric draped across furniture and walls is one that stayed with her and inspired her subsequent art shows. In her wall sculptures, sheets of corrugated fibreboard are moulded to resemble fabric carelessly discarded, artfully arranged or then stretched in a needlepoint ring for embellishment. Folds, creases, buttons carved into the cardboard make it look like actual cloth draped across the wall. By peeling off the top layer of the board, the cardboard artist uses the exposed ridges and flutes to create the impression of a woven texture in the fabric.

Drape collection.

A proponent of sustainability, Jain emphasises that being sustainable does not necessarily mean eco-friendly. Rather it means something that is long-lasting and involves the 3 r’s – reduce, reuse and recycle.

Jain’s new collection in glass.

To delve deeper into sustainability and useable art, Jain is now using glass to explore her trademark fluid forms. Specifically choosing to use green-edged glass so as to emphasise the form, her first piece in this new medium is a coffee table that looks like a waterfall frozen in time. Her fans eagerly await the rest of the collection.

All Images Courtesy Bandana Jain