5 Questions with Anupama Pilbrow
Anupama Pilbrow is a poet and writer from Narrm/Melbourne and co-editor-in-chief of The Suburban Review. Her work often deals with diaspora, dialogue, exchange, and gross stuff. Her chapbook Body Poems was published as part of the deciBels 3 series with Vagabond Press (2018).
We talk to Anupama Pilbrow who was successful in a curatorial takeover of the NIDA Melbourne studios for the upcoming event, NIDAnights: ITERATION with The Suburban Review. Exploring the potential of different media, while questioning the performative boundaries of visual arts, The Suburban Review’s ITERATION asks, Can visual art be performed?
Collaboration is a powerful space for growth and inspiration, and this event fosters critical partnerships between artists of different media. Connecting with upcoming digital issue The Suburban Review #12: ITERATION, this evening will feature work by writers and artists of colour.
What was the impetus for curating ITERATION and can you elaborate on the idea of ‘ekphrastic’ responses?
ITERATION is an idea that TJ Robinson (my co-editor-in-chief) and I have been playing with for some time, but haven’t been able to fully articulate. We wanted to more deeply explore creative potential through collaboration, beyond the scope of what The Suburban Review has done so far—which is commission illustrations for certain of the pieces of writing that we publish. We’ve received great feedback from writers about their surprise and delight seeing their work illustrated for the magazine. And TJ and I wanted to see that become a two-way conversation. We just didn’t quite know what form would best suit our idea. The NIDAnights curatorial initiative to Seize the Space! became the perfect reason to explore our idea, and has allowed TSR to shift gears slightly and explore publishing across different media.
In broader terms, too, I think that publishing a literary journal is a journey of collaboration. My team and I view editing as collaborative process. My team are all writers and artists in their own rights, so we remain conscious of the artistic impulses which direct our work in relation to the writers and artists we are publishing. So, ITERATION is a natural curatorial choice for us.
Ekphrasis is a specific rhetorical form that vividly describes an artwork, to try and capture/translate visual meaning onto the page. But ekphrasis is only one half of the conversation that ITERATION prompts—we also want visual arts forms to capture/translate written meaning into aesthetic meaning. I don’t think there is a word for this direction of translating media, besides illustration. So, I’m kind of stretching the domain of the word ‘ekphrasis’, but I also want the artworks we have commissioned to proclaim the writing which is their source.
The inclusive evening entirely features work by writers, visual artists and media artists of color – a cause after Liminal’s own ethos. What informs your own views on diversity and representation?
I want to see equal representation of marginalised communities in Australia’s (and the world’s) arts scene. And I want representation to be unexceptional. I want the arts communities of people of colour (PoC) to be afforded the same unmarked/default/unremarkable status as white arts communities—that is, for our art and work to be valued and perceived in relation to its context (history, craft, community, place, etc), without that context automatically being differentiated as Other. And I want the humanity of PoC artists to be globally recognised. Because, fundamentally, I think the human condition as lived and experienced by PoC is worthy of artistic interrogation. And, also fundamentally, PoC communities in Australia and around the world want and need to consume art that speaks to their lives.
The only way to eventually achieve natural and equal representation is through fighting for better representation of PoC arts communities now. Which is what we have done at TSR in the past (with Vol. 7: Writers of Colour). And which is what we are doing with ITERATION now. By crafting issues of the magazine which focus on, and promote, work by artists and writers from marginalised communities we see actual, real, concrete changes in our readership, our submitters, our online engagement. These demographic shifts reflect what we already know: there is a market for writing and art by PoC. And there are an immense number of talented PoC creatives who are already doing/continue to do the work to diversify our collective reading habits.
What can the audience expect to see and feel at NIDAnights: ITERATION with The Suburban Review?
NIDAnights: ITERATION is an exhibition space for works commissioned by The Suburban Review for our 12th issue. The audience will be able to see and experience the physical works that will be published in the magazine. There will also be readings, and a couple of video artworks. The artists and writers will all be there, as will my editorial team. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m always up for a chat! And audience members will receive a copy of the e-publication of #12: ITERATION, as well.
As for feeling, one of the coolest parts about ITERATION is that the artists and writers involved get to exercise their agency in creating response works, but also in engaging in collaboration—they choose the who and the how. I hope that the audience will feel the power that comes from letting PoC artists and writers take control of their space.
Also, some of the creatives we commissioned for ITERATION have explored new formats for their creative practice. This has been very rewarding for my editorial team: to work with writers who are extending their practice. And it will be rewarding for the audience, too, I hope. It’s a privilege to see artists exploring new territory.
As the editor of a literary collective, what are the joys and challenges of publishing a quarterly journal?
There are so many joys! There’s the obvious joy of finding an amazing piece that we want to publish, and then bringing it to publication. And the joy of seeing the magazine coming together, of choosing works that cohere, of ordering them to bring out hidden threads of narrative. And the joy of finally being done with an issue, and taking a moment to step back and take pride in what has been created.
But, some of the joys are, I think, a bit unexpected. For instance, there’s the joy of reading the slush pile we receive with every open submissions period. Everyone knows that there’s going to be a lot of slush in the slush pile. But I love reading all the pieces, and sometimes come across ones that are very fun reads but… inappropriate for us to publish (for all kinds of reasons). We’ve had some insect and alien erotica, and lots of stories about toilets, among other literary delights. And we may not always be able to publish it (sometimes we do! So far, no erotica, though.), but I love getting to read it.
One of the major challenges of publishing TSR is the fact that we don’t have a physical headquarters, which means we don’t have frequent meetings. I also work remote from the rest of the editorial team. My staff all have jobs, or study, or families, or all of the above. It can be challenging finding the time to do our work together and meet deadlines together. And with a quarterly journal, the deadlines are relentless. I don’t think our situation is unique. I think a lot of literary journals’ editorial teams would know what I mean.
How did the collaboration with NIDA come about and what was been the highlight of co-presenting an event?
Earlier in 2018, The Suburban Review visited the NIDA Melbourne studios to figure out if we could put together an event that we could host there. We didn’t really push or explore that idea much after visiting the space, because other magazine things got in the way. But, then applications opened for Seize the Space! and we knew the space, and had a germinating idea, so we applied! At that point, we hadn’t started collaborating on the idea—it was still fresh, and still just ours. But, the most rewarding part of getting the opportunity to curate ITERATION has been the exchange of ideas between TSR and NIDA. Since transitioning to a digital format, TSR has been waiting for the push to explore the limitations of incorporating different media into our journal. And at NIDA’s suggestion, we’ve commissioned video works for ITERATION. It’s going to be interesting to see how well multimedia works integrate into the e-publication format!