MONUMENT by Manahil Bandukwala upturns notions of love, monumentalisation, and empire by exploring buried facets of Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal’s story, moving her legacy beyond the Taj Mahal. In this edition of Beautiful Books, the production team at Brick Books provides some insight into the evolution of the cover and interior design.
During the initial stages of production, we set out to create a cover that would convey the dignity, wisdom, and disarming directness of Manahil Bandukwala’s voice.The author associated the book with the colour blue, either in a turquoise or midnight shade, partly due to the book’s tone, and partly because it is one of the defining colours of Mughal art. She also envisioned the cover text, “MONUMENT” to be written out in block letters with a marble texture. Pieces of the “NU” would fall down to mimic the interior illustrations, so that it would also read as “MOMENT.” She wanted it to be minimalist in terms of colour and design elements, avoiding photos and cursive style scripts.Brainstorming key words were an integral part to forming our vision. We hoped that the design would feel sensual, quiet, defiant, ephemeral, mournful, and subversive. It was also helpful to look outward for inspiration. A couple covers that we thought resonated with the voice of the collection were Undoing Hours by Selina Boan and Drolleries by Cassidy McFadzean.
Based on these suggestions from the author and publisher, Alayna Munce, designer Natalie Olsen from Kisscut Design created a series of drafts using different colour palettes. In the end, we chose an ombre of tangerine and blood orange hues, the cover reminiscent of a warm sunset and deceptive in its simplicity. In her design, she was able to give life to Bandukwala’s vision, the “NU” disintegrating into fragments that cumulate into a pile beneath the author’s name. The tiny letters of “POEMS” descend into an abyss, giving the illusion of depth.
Within its pages are illustrations of the Taj Mahal by Bandukwala, its majestic architecture rendered in loose sketches. Upside down, its façade slowly crumbles into a pile of rubble as the collection progresses. The imagery of rubble evokes that sense of time, of complicated truths about empire and colonialism buried and unburied.
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Manahil Bandukwala is a writer and visual artist originally from Pakistan and now settled in Canada. In 2021, she was shortlisted for the bpNichol Chapbook Award. She works as Coordinating Editor for Arc Poetry Magazine, and is Digital Content Editor for Canthius. She is a member of Ottawa-based collaborative writing group VII. Her project Reth aur Reghistan is a multidisciplinary exploration of folklore from Pakistan interpreted through poetry and sculpture. She holds an MA in English from the University of Waterloo. MONUMENT is her first book.
Natalie Olsen has been designing books on a freelance basis for 15 years under the moniker Kisscut Design. Her work has been recognized by Applied Arts Magazine, The Alcuin Society, and some local awards in her home province of Alberta. She is also one of the co-founders of Hingston & Olsen Publishing, makers of the Short Story Advent Calendar and other literary experiments.