The Sixth of FIVE
Five questions with Ishita Basu Mallik about working on FIVE
Nandini Dhar & Mihir Vatsa: Creating cover art for five chapbooks is not an easy thing. You read about 200 pages of poetry to create these five pieces. What were your thoughts when we first approached you and told you about FIVE?
Ishita Basu Mallik: I was delighted. For someone who loves poetry and art and creates both, this kind of gig has an obvious appeal.
ND & MV: The chapbooks of Arjun, Nandini and Manjiri maintain a kind of uniformity. Nandini's chapbook looks closely into the space of the kitchen. Manjiri's is an exploration of a different space which is more familial. Arjun's is essentially a long poem. On the other hand, the chapbooks of Usha and Mihir seem like two ordinary collections of poems. What was it like, then, to create a visual aesthetic which you knew you must sustain through all the chapbooks?
IBM: To a large extent I worked intuitively towards what I wanted each book's front cover to convey. I decided early on that I didn't want to take a literally illustrative approach. There are common visual elements, forms that are revisited across these five rather different covers which pull them together as a set. The editors and poets pretty much let me do my thing for the actual cover art, coming in with more specific feedback once I'd developed the main concepts. So having that level of openness and trust to start with was great.
ND & MV: And which chapbook was the most challenging?
IBM: Hmm. I wouldn't say that any chapbook stood out in terms the challenge it offered. Not trying to be diplomatic here - I approached each one with fresh eyes. And ears. A book with a clear theme presents one set of temptations and opportunities, and a more 'ordinary' collection presents different ones.
ND & MV: As a poet yourself, did the poetry in FIVE resonate with you? We understand that we are putting you in a tough spot here, but were there moments of judgement while reading the manuscripts?
IBM: I had a Notepad file where I typed up some comments and ideas before I started drawing. So I did read the poems as a poet, first.
ND & MV: Moving on from some safe play there, what do you think are the ways/forms through which poetry and art can come together in our time?
IBM: What a good question. One I think about a lot. Think by doing, too. For one, I'd love to see more illustrated poetry books. Then, too, the history (and prehistory) of sequential art is formidable. I've been experimenting with the medium of comics recently. It allows me to do things I don't feel like exploring with text or image alone, separately. There's a tremendous amount of freedom and possibility there, ways to play with space and time, unconstrained by traditional narrative conventions.
This is not an original observation, but the internet was something of a game-changer in terms of the interplay of texts and images, how they are combined and experienced - how ubiquitous the interplay itself is. This is affecting how we find and read/look at poetry, art, comics, and there's a lot of potential for new processes of collaboration and hybrid forms. That goes for film and perfomance art, too.