The Cardboard Community

by Reshmy Majumdar*

Cardboard is rarely considered a material we associate any form of communication in general. But the seven days of ‘Livro de cartao’ workshop conducted by the Department of Images and Communication, UEM, Maputo, that took place from 16, April till 20, April was an eye opener. Here we learnt about the ‘Cartoneras’ whose defining attribute is trash aesthetics of hand painted books made from reused cardboards! The success of ‘cartonera’ projects have proved that there is an alternative to the predatory forms of globalization.

Lucia Rose (of Dulcineia Catadora, Brazil) , Beatriz Martinez (of Meninas Cartoneras, Spain) and Paulo Guambe (of Kutsemba Cartao, Mozambique) and Jose dos Remedios were invited to guide the students of UEM on this green, innovative project and also share their vision on its sustainability in the present politico-economic landscape of Mozambique. For the uninitiated, the above are private non-profit organizations involved in social, economic and literary practices that make a difference in the lives of the impoverished and unemployed.

The students who attended this workshop learnt new ways on how to reused cardboards, magazine covers and use them for making books. Through this collaborative learning process, participants learnt from their Latin American trainers to embrace the cardboard medium and bind collection of short stories, poems in different layouts that fit into various themes of human aesthetic senses. Lucia showed how to camouflage magazine prints used in the covers with coats of paints and embellish them with glitter papers to add that personal touch. Talking about her group in Sao Paulo, Brazil she says “In ‘Dulcineia Catadora’ we always work together exchanging ideas. We purchase cardboards from ‘cartoneras’ and from it cut out book covers and get in touch with writers for short stories, articles, poems and novels”. So these editorial projects are both educative – learning the different stages involved in making a book: graphic design, cutting, binding, painting and also the process of distribution, sales, and there is also an attempt to construct an alternative economic ethos through which people work ‘cooperatively’ and ‘generate genuine work’.

In her session, Beatriz taught Japanese technique to our enthusiastic bookbinders. Using nylon threads, she showed different patterns of stitching which enhanced the unique artistic qualities of each individual book cover. Arsenio, a former linguistics student, who participated in this workshop felt that the “Japanese style involves more materials than the Brazilian one which is more practical”. But this artist from ‘Meninas Cartoneras’, emphasized that her group is particularly interested in recycling magazines, newspapers and create a collage for their book covers. “I discussed with them the entrepreneurship, legal aspects, prices and now I am teaching them to break the cardboards and use magazine letters. It is very successful in Mexico and Spain. We don’t use paints so much”, she said. The novel enterprise endeavors to publish marginalized and avant-garde works from all over her country. “We have a council who reviews the works of authors. We published ‘Lindbergh’ written by the famous Peruvian author, Ivan Thays”, she added.

Cardboard books have a special place in the ‘Ler e Nice’ project started by CEPAD in collaboration with Kutsemba in Mozambique. To support democratization of books and access to literature for everyone, Paulo Guambe expresses the need for more of these affordable books and people who are in position to assist with ideas and materials. “We need more help from the government and people who can contribute with materials and ideas”, he stresses.

In the video conference on 19, April, Luis Madoreira, the founder of Kutsemba, shared that’ cartoneras’ publishing phenomenon has reached the library of University of Wisconsin, USA. He claimed that his university library has a section of books from ‘cartoneiras’ all over the world, for students’ reference.

Gilberto Jose , a participant, is engaged in developing a project “ to tell stories to kindergarten children. He wants to make a collection of such stories and use these cardboard books to propagate them. “I will go and teach the children on how to make cardboard books. I already presented the techniques that I learnt here to the teachers of COOP Primary school and they appreciated it a lot”. Jossias Guambe, an ELT student, learned how to “interact with artists, cut, fold the cardboard cover and most importantly, how to seal the content pages to the cover”.

*Reshmy Majumdar is english language teacher for the English Section at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciencies of Universidade Eduardo Mondlane and colaborated with the Comunication and Image Department of the same University

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