Promoting Peace With Paper and Glue

'MAN is like the elephant that allows a small mahout to sit on its back and train it,'' says V. Balu. ''He has forgotten his own strength.''

The strength this mild-mannered Indian artist is referring to, however, is not that of the pachyderm's physical might. Rather, it is the power of peace -- inner peace -- and the individual's role in promoting it.

Forgetting their own responsibility, too many people consider peace to be solely the concern of governments and organizations such as the United Nations and UNESCO, Balu says. ''But if I cannot live in peace with my family and myself, how can I expect the UN to succeed?''

Turning his artistic talents to that end, Balu has been on a one-man mission of peace for the past 12 years. His medium is paper collage and his target the individual.

Salvaging scraps of wastepaper, he snips and pastes thousands of pieces into sometimes impressionistic, sometimes cubist-looking pictures on the theme of peace. But his inspiration is not your usual artist's fare: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty spurred one collage; the Israeli-Jordanian and Palestinian-Israeli peace pacts launched two more. And a fourth was prompted by the 1986 summit for the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation held in Bangalore, India.

In all, his peace works number more than 60. They are often in soothing tones of blue, brown, and green, and have been exhibited around the world, including at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris in 1992.

But why use paper?

''Maybe I developed the love of paperwork as a former government executive,'' jokes the self-taught Balu, adding, more seriously, that it is a way of utilizing the world's waste. ''My medium is the best and most aesthetic way of recycling paper.''

Balu, whose home is in Bangalore, has been chasing down bits of paper for his collages for more than 35 years. Magazines, candy wrappers, and recycled paper are all picked over with an artist's eye and then turned into colorful mosaics, often with a touch of humor.

A ''Do Not Disturb'' sign from a doorknob in an Italian hotel room appears in the corner of one collage about not disrupting harmony in the world.

A collage to commemorate the Palestinian-Israeli peace accord (''Peace Pact,'' above) meets a different need. On Sept. 15, 1993, the day of the signing, Balu heard a report that hundreds of balloons had been released to celebrate, but that the organizers had really wanted doves to do the job. They just couldn't find any.

''Therefore, I did a peace pigeon to make up for that lack,'' he says.

''People think in bits and pieces,'' Balu says. ''But in my collages, I use bits and pieces to make a total, holistic composition.'' In one collage, ''Integral View,'' an astronaut in space looks back at Earth and sees it ''in its true colors, without barriers of countries, caste, or creed,'' he explains.

Another collage depicts a dove hatching to symbolize the need for every individual to hatch out into an ambassador of peace.

So what if people don't get the message in his art? ''Even if they do nothing,'' he says, ''they can pray for peace in the world and can themselves become peaceful.

''That is enough.''

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