Crafting the chirpy chappy

Niharika Rajput is a practising wildlife artist and a conservationist based in New Delhi. She uses sculpture and installation as her medium to investigate, the damage and dissociation caused by the urban intellect and the urgency to restore nostalgia, within the deconstructed realms of the urban society. Living in the anthropocene age her aim is to restore, protect and conserve all endangered wildlife through art. She has an intriguing eye for nature’s most sophisticated mechanisms but her love for birds is unmatched. Her ongoing projects are dealing with the subject of bird conservation in India and all over the world, likewise. She has an eye for detail, an innate sensitivity to texture, colour and material and a love of playful juxtapositions. Niharika talks with Here is the excerpt –

Tell us about your fascination with birds and wildlife creatures and the brand.

My fascination for birds and all wildlife is not recent. As a child, I loved observing nature and it’s most sophisticated pieces of mechanisms that work endlessly and relentlessly without fail. You will be surprised by the diversity of wildlife found in your small terrace garden. You just have to observe carefully. Birds have always been my favourite species. At age 5 the first bird that ever caught my attention was the white throated Kingfisher. What astonishes me most is that there is a whole different world that is running parallel to ours in the immediate vicinity and we either know nothing or very little about it. From the various different types of breeding rituals, to how they raise their chicks, to practising polygamy and monogamy, to the greatest architectural abilities which they use to build their nests, birds are capable of so much that needs to be acknowledged and applauded.

What bird particularly peeked your interest? 

I got very interested in the Red billed blue magpies when I spotted them for the first time in Himachal in 2014. At that moment I didn’t realise that this would be my passion and mission in life. I never looked back from there on. I started doing research on birds found in different eco-systems and what was happening to them. Thereafter, I not only started making paper bird sculptures but also started collaborating with various nature centres, wildlife organisations, art galleries and schools to raise awareness about birds, their habitat and their current situation.

What was your first paper bird sculpture? How did you get started with making birds from paper?

My first carefully handcrafted paper bird sculpture was the Female Hen Harrier. Being an artist was not really a career choice. It was just the only thing I loved to do. So that is how it began – a long period of experimentation, building, destroying and rebuilding. My subject from the very first day was nature and wildlife, nothing else ever resonated with me. After a long period of experimentation with different materials such as wire mesh, thread, fibre and ceramic I settled for the paper. This medium best replicated the texture of feathers.

What inspires you the most when making a new sculpture? 

No matter how many times I build a bird, every new sculpture comes with its own set of challenges. With every new sculpture, you get to learn so much about that bird especially when your clients have great stories to tell and experiences to share. There’s not one thing that inspires me, it’s the entire process of building the bird, reading about it and interacting with the clients and fellow birders that add value.

Tell us something about your artistic background?

I am a self-taught artist. Having said that my journey began at People Tree, Delhi, where I worked for a short period with great artistic minds. In the year 2013 I started exploring with different mediums and after much experimentation, I landed on my subject and my medium eventually.

How many birds have you made so far? Name a few birds you have handcrafted?

Honestly, I haven’t counted but maybe after this, I should. I have handcrafted various bird species found in the Himalayas to the Western Ghats, to birds found in Central India. I have gone beyond the Indian territory and have built birds found in different countries all over the world. To name a few- Hen Harriers, Common Kingfishers, black-necked Cranes, Splendid fairy Wren, Himalayan Minal, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Barn Owl and Humming Birds.

Which sculpture was the easiest to work on and which gave you the most trouble in articulating it?

Some birds do come across as drab and plain but they are the most difficult to build. So I have to say the Hen Harriers, Owls and Black-necked Cranes were the most difficult to build. But I am always up for new challenges. Every piece from conception to implementation requires a lot of research, documentation and sketching before the actual process begins. But when you love what you do everything seems doable.

Could you please tell us about the process of making these miniature birds? What do you love the most about them?

The process of building these birds was not easy and took me a long time to master. I worked with different materials such as fibre, thread, epoxy and ceramic to name a few. Then I found paper to be very effective. It was the perfect medium to translate the exact texture of bird feathers. The entire process is time consuming but I have no complaints. It starts by studying the anatomy of the bird, building the inner structure and giving it the right posture. Then follows the step of sketching the wings, tail and body feathers, cutting each of those carefully to get the exact shape and then gluing them individually on the body. The next step is what I love the most about building these birds. That is painting them realistically. The shades, shadows and the glisten in the eyes have to be similar to the living birds otherwise it could be a complete disaster. This entire process can take up to a month or more.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

The most beautiful thing about building these birds is that they are everywhere. I also interact with fellow birders and go on bird watching trips to improve my knowledge about the whole process. Sometimes my customers have the most wacky idea, which forces me to look for inspiration in the most unusual places and I love it.

Where do you sell these bird sculptures from?

People can email, message me on my website or contact me on various social media platforms. I also have an Etsy shop which is yet to become popular. I am always open for customisation, so if someone has a particular request in mind, I’d be happy to build it for them. The request for customisation should be made at least a month before you actually need the bird because I am busy with orders and will need some time to make the bird.

What are you currently working on and what are your future plans?

I am currently working on a Great Indian Hornbill which is much larger in size than I am comfortable working on. But like I mentioned above every piece comes with its own challenges. I am also working on many other smaller versions of table toppers and hanging mobiles. This period has also been particularly interesting because I have been working on a 4 and a half foot tall sculpture of an elephant for Wildlife Trust of India.

I have a lot planned for my brand Paper Chirrups. I want to take on a more scientific approach towards constructing and replicating different types of dialogues between the birds and its natural habitat. In the near future, I’d like to try and explore the idea of building a kinetic bird sculpture. I would also love to work with more nature centres and wildlife organisations and help raise awareness about the current status of birds.