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Eye to Eye: Art for Equality

This International Women’s Day, we hooked up with 5 artists whose views on the world we admire in support of the Fred Hollows Foundation USA: a charity focused on helping visually-impaired girls and women who, because of gender-related stigmas, have trouble getting appropriate eye care. Get one, and then go call the special women in your life.

But before you do so, we’d love for you to get to know the brilliant people behind the art. 

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Carlín Díaz

Carlín Díaz creates fantastic, psychedelic and surreal worlds, populated by sensual racoon-like characters: “I love the mask they [racoons] naturally have, kind of mysterious.” Looking at his work feels like being stuck in an alternative, very stylish dimension, where things happen veeeery slooooowly. Or as another writer described it, “I feel like Homer high on peyote”. The Venezuelan-born artist calls this style “liquid geometry” and honestly, that sounds absolutely accurate — maybe even onomatopoeic? 

Inspired mainly by the “beauty of nature and music”, Carlín explains that his work is about a spiritual journey towards happiness and inner calm, but it’s also about capturing the distractions in between: “Throughout that journey, I sometimes find sensuality and get distracted by it. I think all these explorations are reflected in my work.” 

“Art makes the world naked and beautiful, it’s where we look beyond the concrete trees and advertisements.” 

His idea of sensuality feels very poetic and his interpretations of the female form appear organic, almost divine. This includes works such as Parisian Apartment, 2019, in which a woman sits naked on a toilet whilst cooking, as well as History of the Clouds, 2018, in which a naked woman appears runs happily towards the sun. 

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When questioned about Women as a recurring theme in his work, Carlín implies that it’s not necessarily about illustrating women specifically — “Each of those pieces [mentioned above] were created in different periods of my life, during which I was trying to express an overarching feeling. Both women find themselves in opposite situations: one is running free, the other is trapped.” 

For International Women’s Day, Carlín portrayed his own interpretation of Equality by showing a figure’s reflection in water:  “We are all the same: tall, short, white, black, men, women. So I thought about a mirror and the reflection of the water as a way to symbolize that belief.”  

Whilst discussing art and how it has the power to create social change, Carlín confidently stated that “Art makes the world naked and beautiful, it’s where we look beyond the concrete trees and advertisements. Hopefully, in the future, it could be accessible to everyone, for the poor and for the rich, and then we will be able to perceive the positive social change in a more clear way.”  

To Carlín, International’s Day is everyday. “Also, it’s an excuse to call all the women you love.” Wise words. 

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Sofia Hydman

It’s hard not to feel transfixed by Sofia Hydman’s illustrations. Her glossy, curvy, uber-confident, glam girl gang are #goals — yes, we said it, #goals. They twerk, they drink champagne with straws, they eat two ice-creams at the same time, they love their naked bodies. They basically rule the world. But these gals don’t just wanna have fun. They might be made-up, but Sofia’s characters stand for very real issues such as diversity, body positivity and female empowerment. 

“I want to create a fierce squad you would like to hang out with. A fun gang with strong personalities and curious googly eyes who speak their mind and rarely give a fuck. I’m creating a little universe of my own and I fill it with soft shapes, pastels and pizza”, the Stockholm-based artist explains, when asked about what motivates her to create her women.

While her work has been accurately described as “cartoon versions of Botero”, Sofia explains that she’s inspired by pop culture: “That gives them a story. These women are my childhood icons who will always have a piece of my heart — whether it’s Sailor Moon, Olivia Newton John or Britney Spears.” 

“I’m creating a little universe of my own and I fill it with soft shapes, pastels and pizza.”

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To Sofia, International Women’s Day is obviously important: “It’s a moment to reflect on where we are and where we want to go as a society.” The illustration she created in honour of the occasion shows two of her glossy, bubbly women happily leaning on each other, supported by one big eye in the middle: “I wanted to focus on sisterhood. The eye represents the shared vision for equality in the future.”

Opening up about Equality and Unity, Sofia shared her opinion: “Today, with the help of social media, it’s easy to find people who you can relate to. And you can just reach for your phone to see people taking a stand towards something they believe in. It’s inspiring because you get the feeling that you’re not alone, you are part of a community and so it’s easier to express your opinion and challenge the norm. This global community has made younger generations braver.” 

When it comes to art and how it has the power to create social change, the illustrator feels that “Art influences and inspires people on a daily level (whether it’s through images, music, movies, and so on). Learning about different views has become a regular thing in our everyday life, and that reality makes us feel less frightened or shocked when people express opinions.”

And lastly, how do you see the word, Sofia? “Round. What goes around comes around.” 

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Stella Murphy

Stella Murphy’s work is a joy to look at. The strange, otherworldly and thought-provoking characters that she creates are almost non-human — like a beautiful band of misfits from a parallel universe, where ludicrous things can happen.  Her art makes us laugh and at the same time triggers uneasiness, while raising questions about deep stuff like reality, humanity and beauty. “I suppose my work is about questioning the human experience and the ridiculousness of it all”, the London-based illustrator explains.

“I suppose my work is about questioning the human experience and the ridiculousness of it all.”

Stella has always drawn instinctively, “Teachers would always comment in school that I was constantly daydreaming, I still do in fact”. Yet her work is undeniably influenced by vintage comics: “Visually, I draw a lot of inspiration from comics such as the Beano, Viz and underground magazines from the 60s and 70s such as Oz magazine. The Chicago imagists also mean a lot to me. They had such warmth and love for comic books, advertisements and pop culture, rather than the more widely known Pop Art, which at times feels a little cold and critical.” As for the stories she tells, Stella finds inspiration in the real world,  “ I enjoy observing people in my surroundings - plus, I watch a lot of TV which I feel seeps into my work.” 

For our International Women’s Day collab, Stella expressed the theme of Equality in her fantastic, dark-humoured style: “For me Equality is a journey, a march we have to unite for, in order to go on. But actually when you look closely at the illustration, people are kind of pointing and walking in opposite directions.”

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While further discussing the topic of the project, Stella recalls how once one of her tutors at university made a strange comment: “He said that I don’t draw “how girls usually draw”. He probably thought he was giving me a compliment,  but this kind of statement just goes along with this really old-fashioned view that women should just be nice and draw nice things, like flowers or whatever. I think I have to use this kind of ignorance as ammunition and always try to make work that surprises people, otherwise you’re in danger of getting dismissed or overlooked.” Her determined attitude is inspired by people like cartoonist Jackie Ormes, whom she discovered while working on her print. “She stood out in a field that was solely male and predominantly white. It's actually really refreshing as a woman of colour myself, to see cartoonists presenting black people in a more sensitive manner, rather than the derogatory fashion a lot of other cartoonists have historically portrayed.” 

So, how do you really see the world, Stella? “Scary, but at times completely hilarious.” On point. 

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Alice Wietzel

Alice Wietzel creates positive messages in soft pastels. She draws confident, stylish women of all shapes and skin tones, hanging out naked in peaceful places doing nice things, as a way to explore femininity and the relationship we have with our bodies. But Alice’s got another much more magical way to define her art : “I’ve developed a soft floral universe where feminine and bouncy bodies luxuriate.” Take me there, right?

The Paris-based illustrator creates to escape the boringness of the real world: “I feel almost perpetually unsatisfied by the aesthetic of what surrounds us daily,” she explains. “So I guess creating is a way to compensate for ordinary ugliness, as well as a medium to express my opinions and values.” 

Not only does she focus on female bodies, Alice also enjoys diving into ecology: “Ecofeminism really makes sense to me. But because it doesn’t appeal to everyone, it’s a much harder theme to share without sounding like a moralist.” 

The artist’s style is inspired by second-hand books and movies, as well as other artists: “I absolutely love Paul Jacoulet’s work, but I also adore Georgia O’Keeffe, Alex Katz and Inès Longevial. I admire many fellow illustrators such as Pauliina Holma, Bijou Karman, Morgane Fadanelli — the list goes on.” 

“Ecofeminism really makes sense to me. But because it doesn’t appeal to everyone, it’s a much harder theme to share without sounding like a moralist.” 

We wondered what was the last piece that left her in awe: “This winter I went to la FIAC, simply because I knew some paintings by Ridley Howard were on exhibit. I saw them and almost cried like a real fangirl. He paints with oil, but it’s so matte, so soft and poetic. It felt like such a privilege.”

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International Women’s Day obviously means a great deal to Alice: “It means that we still have a long way to go before equality is complete. Once social and gender disparities disappear, there will be no longer a need for such days. But in the meantime, they have their importance. Raising awareness, even for one day, opens the door to a year-long reflection on inequalities for some people, and resonates at least for a little while with others.” 

The illustration Alice created for International Women’s Day was inspired by the aesthetic of communist propaganda posters: “I’m attracted to this not because of its ideology, but because it’s the only artistic popular medium that offered a representation of women as determined, hard at work and truly independent.  The illustration shows women of every origin united in the fight for justice. The pregnant woman is there to remind us that this fight is not only in our interest but for future generations. The plants aren’t decorative, they’re luxuriating because ecofeminism is key to making a better world. Society has to stop exploiting the earth and women’s bodies alike.”

Still on on the theme of Equality, Alice explains her beliefs: “Claiming Equality exists, or should exist, doesn’t make it come true, and I think younger people are not fooled by patriarchy's attempts to pretend equality is a systemic reality. I fundamentally believe in intersectionality, and the best way to achieve positive change is to start where all our interests converge. We all live on the same planet don’t we?” 

As for how art can play a role in moving things forward, Alice has her own unique theory: “These days I’ve started to think that most artists are a bit like Miss World pageant contestants. What we do doesn’t seem to have an impact, it looks pointless to many people. But the fact is that once you have an audience, you can actually spread messages.” 

Please keep spreading messages, Alice.   

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Kelly Anna

Kelly Anna’s buff and beautiful, larger than life Goddesses have practically become an official symbol for positive empowerment: from NikeWomen campaigns celebrating Women’s Day, to zines championing female strength, to exhibitions supporting Amnesty International —  her tough women are everywhere. Having also already hosted two solo shows, one exploring women’s inner power and the other tackling society’s perception of an aging body, we think it’s pretty fair to say that when it comes to celebrating women, Kelly Anna is a true pro. 

The London-based artist explains her work as “Female empowerment through the language of sport”, yet her art is also very much fueled by family ties: “I grew up painting with my dad. So everytime I create, it takes me back to special moments spent with him. The love for my family is everything so Art is a way of feeling that. I also have way too much energy so I think I would get bored if I wasn't making new stuff all the time”. 

"I want to inspire females to feel as powerful and graceful as the figures I depict.” 

The women Kelly Anna creates in a style that she describes as “If Matisse had a granddaughter who moved to Ancient Greece and was born a feminist in Ipswich - 1988”, are placeholders for viewers to fill in with their own stories: “They are silhouettes that allow space for people to put themselves in their place. I want to inspire females to feel as powerful and graceful as the figures I depict.” 

When asked about who she considers a female role model, Kelly Anna talks about the popular artist Hattie Stewart: “I followed her work for years, and now she’s one of my best friends. Now that I know her on a personal level my admiration has doubled. Her creative process is one like no other, the way she thinks, her referencing, and her drive for perfection is what drives me to be a better artist.” Other things that have inspired her recently include a talk by famous designer Stefan Sagmeister at GDF festival: “ He had the whole crowd singing a beautiful emotive piece.”  

The piece Kelly Anna created for International Women’s Day speaks about Equality in terms of equilibrium. “It depicts the idea of a society in harmony. Each figure is looking away, as a reference to individuality, but the fact that they’re leaning on each other shows support”, the artist explains.  

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As for the topic of Equality in the art industry, Kelly Anna speaks from personal experience: “I have been pleasantly surprised by the fact that clients have been so receptive to the news of me being pregnant. I have to put my hand up and say that I had to deal with my own prejudice, the minute I fell pregnant I assumed I would be treated differently. This made me face my own faults, and want to champion my new perspective on mothers.”  

Creating and looking at art helps us to approach and grasp the meaning of life, or certain situations better — “I believe it’s a way of having difficult conversations in a more palpable way. You can speak to people's gut rather than their head, which I believe makes it more impactful”, Kelly Anna argues.  

This way of thinking also links to how the artist sees the world: “As a big misunderstanding. Most of the time I think anger is a manifestation of us not getting each other. I don’t think that we’re on a mission to hurt one another — I believe the underlying feeling of being understood drives how we behave. Especially nowadays, where we enter defensive mode when having conversations. We are all waiting to hear the wrong thing, waiting to call each other out, waiting to say: ‘see you just don't get what it’s like to be me’”.

Let this International Women’s Day be a reminder about that too: the importance of making an effort to understand each other. It’s a great starting point to reaching Equality and so much more.   

The prints are now available to buy in selected stores - Check locations below. Get one and then go call the special women in your life!

- Amsterdam

- Berlin

- London

- Stockholm

- Brussels

Words by Isabel van Zeller