This age-old medium is re-emerging with a newfound popularity among artists and designers across the globe who are reimagining its usage
Once seen as a humble material suited only for crafts and decorative objects, papier-mâché is undergoing an artistic renaissance and resurgence in the contemporary art and design world. Today, artists and designers across the globe have begun incorporating papier-mâché, cast paper, and the like, into sculptural works, installations, conceptual pieces and home décor objects to captivate audiences. As Puneet Shah, founder and director of Akara Modern, observes, “Over the years the material has been re-imagined—the handmade imperfection and earthiness of this medium makes it even more interesting for artists to explore.”
The technique of papier-mâché—meaning chewed paper in French—has been employed by cultures worldwide for centuries. But as Shah explains, “In today’s date, from decorative objects and collectables to sculptures and installations, papier-mâché has found a new life in the horizon of contemporary art language.”
Its infinitely malleable, clay-like quality also makes it appealing for artists to experiment with new techniques and aesthetics. Hena Kapadia, founder and director of art gallery TARQ notes, audiences are “quite excited to see different media works, and are especially interested in the new variety of textures that they present.” As creatives across the globe explore its creative boundaries, they also reshape perceptions of what this humble, historic medium can be. Here are a few fascinating pieces that have recently caught our eye.
The ‘Srinagar Stambh’ depicts a fusion of Indian handicrafts and contemporary aesthetics. Crafted from papier-mâché, its elongated structure is adorned in pristine white, comprising a series of five arched sections that elegantly overlap. Meticulously crafted by the skilled Kashmiri Sakhta makers, who intricately layer hand-mixed paper pulp to sculpt the form, this process unfolds over the course of several weeks. With illuminated rings casting a mesmerising glow that form a captivating visual illusion, this creation pays homage to the magnificent city of Srinagar, reflecting the exquisite beauty that defines Kashmir's artistic heritage.
Warli art is a traditional form of tribal art by the Warli people of Maharashtra. Characterised by its simple yet spellbinding style, using a basic colour palette of white on a reddish-brown background, Warli art features geometric shapes, stick-like human figures, and rudimentary depictions of daily life and rituals. These Warli baskets uniquely marry the age-old techniques of jute basketry with papier-mâché, resulting in pieces that are not only functional but also rich in cultural significance. Meticulously hand-painted with vibrant acrylic colours, each basket becomes a canvas that narrates stories of the tribe’s heritage and daily life.
Mexican visual artist Rodrigo Hernandez’s artworks, at first glance, may seem simple but carry complex questions about the world around us—referring to art history, elements of literature, and a number of manmade concepts such as the idea of time or what makes us human. His abstract sculptures embrace papier-mâché for its accessibility and versatility, and he began using the humble material because it was “easy to find and cheap,” allowing him the freedom to experiment widely, he describes. Hernandez also came to appreciate how papier-mâché could be transformed into diverse textures, colours and forms through simple techniques. “The material allowed me to go in many directions, very often surprising me with its results.
The biggest joy for me is to see how something very raw and standard like a grey recycled cardboard can be transformed into something bright, colourful, smooth, shiny, complex, curvy or dynamic—it's like magic!” he exclaims.
Hernandez also points out how it taught him about patience as “every step of the process needs time to finish its natural course. If you go too fast, some accidents can happen. The material always teaches you something at the end.” Hernandez's current exhibit features abstract papier-mâché pieces with hints of figuration, intended to spark visual curiosity as viewers walk around them. The sculptures subtly balance abstraction and representation as a “gentle game between the artist and the viewer”, and he remains enthusiastic about expanding his papier-mâché practice, envisioning smaller works imitating everyday objects like jewellery.
For Indian ceramic artist Savia Mahajan, paper is a remarkably versatile material that lends itself to her sculptural explorations. She uses it in diverse forms—pulp, sheets, books and scraps—often combined with clay in her works. “As the core ingredient of paper is fibre cellulose, it has the potential to produce volume and dimension when pulped, folded or crumpled,” she explains. This range of textures and possibilities inspires Mahajan's techniques. “In the wet stage of my work the paper is present, but when I fire the sculptures at high temperatures above 1,200°C, the paper burns out leaving its character embedded in the ceramic works,” she points out.
Over years of working with paper, Mahajan has developed her own techniques, appreciating paper's fibrous quality and the many variations it lends to her art. She acknowledges working with paper requires skill learned through hands-on experience, as it has a “mind of its own with no perfect formula.” Currently, Mahajan enjoys dyeing paper sheets with natural dyes prior to making pen drawings on their surfaces—a challenging but rewarding process. Though primarily a ceramist, paper and clay hold equal importance for Mahajan, who shares that she will continue to use paper in new ways. “Both these age-old materials put together are an elusive combination full of possibilities!”
In the 1980s, Indian-born American artist Zarina Hashmi began using cast paper (a crafting technique in which paper fibre or pulp is formed using a mould) as a medium for a number of monochromatic sculptures. Today, four of these have been on display at art gallery Akara Modern in Mumbai, which include the grid-like ‘Pools’, inspired by the red sandstone of Fatehpur Sikri, whose architecture she loved; and ‘Phool’, which alludes to a flower from her father’s garden—a fragrance that lingered in her mind.
“Zarina's cast paper sculptures illustrate how she applied the aesthetic and mechanics of printmaking onto other mediums. She witnessed paper being made in Sanganer, Rajasthan, where seeing liquid paper being pulled on screens from vats made her realise the potential of paper pulp as a casting medium. While she mainly made monochromatic sculptures, over time she experimented with colour—rich earthy pigments. She managed to do this by engineering special plexiglass moulds into which she would pour her paper slurry concoctions. Then, the pigment was added to the wet mixture, which resulted in a dry solid surface evoking the organic texture and patina of stone walls,” shares the gallery’s founder and director, Puneet Shah.
Bengaluru-based artist Ravikumar Kashi learnt handmade papermaking from The Glasgow School of Art, Scotland, and Hanji—a traditional Korean papermaking technique—from Jang Ji Bang, Korea. Using cast cotton rag and paper pulp, he has moulded this minimalist cast paper wall hanging depicting a humble kerosene lantern.
In a unique spin, Hyderabad-based artist Archana Rajguru crochets used wool to weave features of a face on top of a papier-mâché mould in her latest piece from her ‘Head’ series of artworks. While the interplay of colours makes it a visually striking piece for a wall, the unusual horn above it creates a conversation starter at gatherings.
This textured papier-mâché vase is handcrafted by artisans in Kashmir for Ikai Asai's Lila collection inspired by the gentle pace of life in Puducherry. To create the papier-mâché, skilled Kashmiri craftsmen start by soaking or boiling paper to create a pliable pulp. This pulp is mixed with a starchy adhesive like flour and water to form a thick paste. The artisans shape the vase by layering strips of paper soaked in the paste over a moulded form, reinforcing the shape with wire or textiles. As the papier-mâché dries, the adhesive hardens, capturing the organic undulations. Slight variations in the neutral tones and hand-shaped form reflect the craftsmanship.
Japan, circa 1910
This exquisite circular papier-mâché box exemplifies fine Japanese lacquerware craftsmanship from the early 20th century. Made around 1910, the lidded box displays the artistic techniques used to create these decorative vessels. Its base is formed through the traditional papier-mâché process, with paper strips layered using an adhesive paste to build up the shape. This is then covered with black urushi lacquer made from the sap of the toxic lacquer tree, creating a glossy background. Masterful hand-painted details are applied atop the black lacquer in vivid pigments mixed with lacquer. A delicate scene with figures, trees and architecture decorates the lid, accented by shimmering gold gilt.
If you’re looking for a collection of uniquely designed papier-mâché bowls and vases, the Nodara collection with its organic colours and textures is your best bet! Made with handmade and recycled paper clay and eco-friendly glue, this set of five pieces is perfect on a centre table together or as singular objects around the home.