I believe that simplicity can amplify your voice, instead of making it fade away in the noise.
Illustration: Joanna Mudrowska, Text: Natalia Fiszka
The simplicity and boldness of black ink on white paper inconspicuously taking shape of female curves is what makes Joanna Mudrowska’s creations stand out. When we caught up with her a few months ago, Joanna told us how she had dropped architecture in order to pursue the path of artistic life labelled as a feminist illustrator.
Natalia Fiszka: There are surely many people who love drawing but they never seem to turn this hobby into an actual job. How did you manage to do that?
Joanna Mudrowska: I’ve always loved drawing and I’ve been doing it since I can remember. I even wanted to study Fine Arts but, as you can imagine, I thought that you cannot make a living as an illustrator. In consequence, I decided to take up architecture, as I thought I’d get to draw there. Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment as creative work we had to do was so little that I chose to go on a student exchange to catch some fresh air. During the exchange I could choose courses from other faculties so I went for conceptual illustration. I was simply chasing this it. After a year around inspired and visionary people I could not make peace with the idea of me working at an architect office. This thought made me uneasy to the point that I had to challenge myself and put my work out there for other to see. I chose Instagram as a platform to share my work. The beginnings were painful as I don’t have any distance to what I create. Almost every single time I uploaded an illustration, I’d delete it after a couple of minutes because I was afraid of people’s response. I’m made friends with the sharing part now. My twin sister supports me a lot on this journey. She’s my filter and my work’s critic. My audience grew gradually and with time I started receiving smaller and bigger jobs as an illustrator. At first, I did all that on the side to my regular job but I had to quit at some pint as it requires my full involvement.
NF: How did you come around to explore female body in your illustrations?
JM: A year on a student exchange in Valencia taught me a lot both as an illustrator and person. Spaniards are not only friendly but also in tune with their sexuality. It’s not uncommon to talk about sex or show your naked body in front of other people. I feel that Poles are much more shy when it comes to that, like our sensuality, which is a huge part of us and our identity, was some sort of taboo. We prefer to keep it secret. I believe the time I spent in Spain uncorked some sort of curiosity in me that could not be tamed even after I came back to Warsaw. I felt the urge to explore more about nudity and our perception of it in my work.
NF: Minimalistic and conceptual illustration make up a great deal of your work, why do you find them appealing in terms of artistic expression?
JM: In the beginning of the mentioned conceptual illustration course we spent a great deal of time working with models. The trick was in that we were not supposed to draw what we saw. As you can imagine I had tremendous difficulties in accomplishing that after studying architecture, where your only job is to be as accurate and realistic as possible. I was pushed to stretch myself, use the imagination, look for different ways of expression, instead of the obvious ones. This is how I got hooked on minimalistic illustration. In the era of us being bombed with information at all times, I believe that simplicity can amplify your voice, instead of making it fade away in the noise.
NF: So what is the message behind the simple form of your illustrations?
JM: As I am maturing as an illustrator, I am also maturing as a woman. I remember being initially overwhelmed by nudity and sexuality but the more aware of myself I become, the more I realise that what I try to express in my work is the change my mind undergoes as I mature and how my perception of female body develops. The women from my drawings are my creations. Even though they are anonymous, they are certainly inspired by real life and they most definitely reflect my state of mind. In my drawings I try to show how I feel in my body and I hope that most of the time they present how good this feeling is. The year in Valencia Body is one of the very few things that belong to us in its entirety. It’s us who decide what we want to do with our body.
NF: I grew up in a very sexist society where women were often objectified and considered lesser, therefore I love the way a young female artist like yourself sees female body. I love you saying that we own our bodies. It gives me hope and impression that we, humankind, are about to make a bold move and acknowledge the fact that women can decide for themselves. Do you see yourself as one of those who drive this change?
JM: I hope that I am a part of the positive change but, frankly speaking, I try to stay clear off politics. I know it’s rather difficult to be apolitical these days, especially with conservative government attempting to limit women on every corner (editorial note: abortion law in Poland is one of the most restrictive in Europe) and I have already gotten labelled as a feminist, which I like, however, I think calling yourself one thing or the other carries a huge responsibility. The kind of responsibility I’m not ready to take.