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Interview: Nabil Sabio Azadi

Personal contacts from all over the globe compiled in a handmade, fur-bound travel guide

by James Thorne in Travel on 14 January 2013

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Nabil Sabio Azadi is interested in a specific form of intrepid, personally connected travel. His new book, "For You The Traveller," is a painstaking work that combines personal anecdotes with a list of local contacts from around the world, culled from the artist's five-year stint traveling across five continents. The detailed directory comprises an intentionally varied roster of names, phone numbers and stories, all lovingly hand-bound in oak and recycled rabbit fur.

The book has been produced in an edition of 200, with all proceeds going to Nouvelle Planète to fund the construction of footbridges near Ambano, Madagascar. We recently spoke with Azadi to learn more about the ambitious project and how he came to create such a unique global index.

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How did you find the people to be involved in this?

It was six months ago in June when the idea came to me and though I myself was at first a little baffled about how to put together such a rare book, I started trying to find people that night. I knew they had to be from all over the world, of different ages and races and political views and professions.

I began to remember my own adventures—I'm 21 now and I've essentially spent the last five years roaming the world—and I began to recall the cameo appearances and short exchanges that punctuated my travels and turned them into something incredible. I realized I already had a stable of such souls to call upon. Proposing the book to these people wasn't anything special or difficult. The exact type of person I wanted to be involved was always the exact kind of person who wanted to be involved.

Can you tell us about the process of making the book?

I gathered the people and then their stories—my intention was to try and help them extract the essence of a lesson from their life experiences. I interviewed them but in varied and informal ways. Then came the illustrations. Using recycled rabbit fur and wood for the covers is extremely unorthodox and the octogenarian book binding guild I visited were highly dubious. In the end, I managed to make it work by creating a new kind of stitch for the binding. The process of preparing the Tasmanian oak for the spines of the covers involves cutting the wood, drilling it, sanding it and then treating it with beeswax and rose cream a number of times for longevity, color and scent. Then the fur is cut and trimmed with razor blades only. Then I bind.

The whole process is extremely time-consuming and emotionally involving. My entire spirit has to be in my hands when I'm making them because otherwise it doesn't work. No distractions. I listen to music but always the same song on repeat. I owe PJ Harvey a favor because at this point, my play count for "The Words That Maketh Murder" is over 19,000. But I always labor happily in the knowledge that what each book will give someone is much greater than eight hours of my time.

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What design influences contributed to the final look and feel of the book?

I grew up in New Zealand—which looks like it was the landscaping side project of some very talented and very bored divine power obsessed with the golden ratio—so I've always been very preoccupied with the natural world. The wood and the rabbit fur could be attributed to that. Regarding the steel bolts, I have an inclination to combine natural or old materials with manmade or new products.

And as for the typography, I studied Latin when I was thirteen or fourteen years old; the capitalization of Latin has always elated me for some reason. The letterings themselves were inspired by old academic and royal communications from Western Europe. And liturgical Latin texts have the most absurd variances in text sizes in order to emphasise certain phrases which I find hysterically funny. All in all, I think the variances in text sizes I employed gave the book a voice.

Images by James Thorne

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