Bina Sarker Ellias is a widely renowned writer, poet, cultural practitioner, curator, and publisher in Mumbai, India. A journalism veteran for over forty years, she has also spoken widely in forums around the world on matters of art and literature. She is the founder and publisher of International Gallerie, a glossy annual journal of the visual arts around the world. In her spare time, she writes ekphrastic poetry.
The Ekphrastic Review caught up with Bina virtually to talk shop.
What are the roots of your passion for global visual art? Why did you start an international art magazine from India?
Art is a universal concept. Even as I am from India, my interest and curiosity is not limited within national boundaries. While we have a rich and vibrant history of Indian Art, and continue to nurture it, for me, understanding and appreciation of diverse genres and ouvre is critical in my personal vision of seeking unity in diversity.
What are some of the joys and challenges you have faced as a woman in the arts?
Not an artist, nor an “official” art historian, as a cultural practitioner, I have only experienced joy and fulfilment in my work as a poet, writer, art curator and as editor-designer-publisher of International Gallerie, the global arts and ideas journal I founded in 1997. In a gender sense… I‘ve not experienced any challenges in the arts; perhaps because I mapped my own journey. There are gatekeepers everywhere, but when you have belief in your work, the work finds its own path.
How were you first exposed to ekphrastic writing? How did you get started writing poetry about art? Tell us about your journey as an ekphrastic writer.
I’ve been writing poetry and have been interested in the arts since a very early age… when scribbles in word and form were part of my growing. Much of my poetry engages with life around me and abstract thoughts of a larger universe. Art in the form of visual arts, photography, theatre, music, dance… fascinate me. I’m always in wonder about aesthetics or the power of their diverse languages. Since art is so entwined with my life, it’s an organic response in the form of poetry... as it’s in poetry that I can express myself in condensed thoughts. I write a lot of Haiku as well. I believe less is more.
We get many submissions from writers in India, and there seems to be a large ekphrastic community or movement there. Is this perception correct? Tell us about ekphrasis in India, or in Mumbai where you live.
That is indeed, interesting. Honestly, I was not aware of an ekphrastic community in India!
How do you choose the artworks that you write about? What is your process like?
It’s a natural, spontaneous response. If a work lures me, the words follow like happy slaves!
Tell us about the idea behind When Seeing Is Believing. The art you’ve responded to is so diverse. Is there a common thread weaving the collection together? What were you hoping to show your readers?
The book, When Seeing Is Believing is a compilation of many writings that were stored in my poetry closet. Its diversity is because there was no common theme. These were works I’d responded to, over years.
However, the idea of compiling it into a book happened as I wanted to support a friend, Leena Kejriwal, who works for the empowerment of young girls rescued from trafficking.
The project is titled “MISSING” and she creates awareness of their situation to the world at large. Besides the awareness, it also helps in sourcing funding for the rescued girls to be educated, taught skills and financial independence so they do not succumb to prostitution. Leena, being a photographer and artists as well, created a symbolic patent for MISSING… a silhouette of a young woman which has been used as graffiti all over. While I wrote a poem on this silhouette, I thought I could help the project with compiling an ekphrastic book, sales from which would be donated to the MISSING project.
An organisation called the Morarka Foundation supported the production of the book and we had hefty sales that were donated to the cause.
You have worked as an editor on many arts books. Are any of them ekphrastic projects? Do you have other collections of ekphrastic poetry?
No, while I’ve edited and designed several art books, they were not ekphrastic projects.
I do not have other collections yet, of ekphrastic poetry, consumed as I am by multi-tasking… my journal International Gallerie, a book on Indian art that I’m working on, curatorial projects… and short fiction besides poetry happens in the punctuations. A semi-ekphrastic book with Haiku might just emerge if I can challenge myself!
Is there anything else you would like to share about ekphrastic literature?
It’s a precious genre. A sum of aesthetic sensibility. Seeing is believing!
Selections from Seeing Is Believing
The Ekphrastic Review
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