Art and Social Change: In Discussion with Munea Wadud

Munea Wadud. Support Queer and Trans Artists sticker.Image Courtesy of the artist.

Interview by Adi Berardini

I first came across Ottawa-based artist Munea Wadud’s colourful pastel patches on the LGBTQ2+ market site Flamingo Market, and the way she blends activism and art and design immediately caught my eye. Their art prints, pins, patches, and stickers reading Support Queer and Trans Artists” and “Destroy White Supremacy” use bright colour schemes to dynamically convey messages of advocacy.

As she describes, Munea Wadud is a “self-taught, multi-disciplinary artist with years of experience in acrylic painting, watercolors, and many other traditional forms of visual arts.” Recently, they have also been exploring digital drawing as a form of expression. Passionate about social change, Wadud creates art that is first and foremost inclusive and feminist, and her “identity and being a queer, non-binary person of colour” informs her work. Wadud’s art also has a strong focus on body positivity, creating representations showing that queer and trans bodies of all sizes are beautiful. Munea describes more about their art practice in the following interview.

Your art is influenced and inspired by culture, for example, the animation you created of a woman going out after Iftar. Your lo-fi city animations also convey the loneliness of the city, which is only highlighted by the pandemic and lockdowns. Can you speak more about how your art and cultural identity intersect in your practice? 

I feel like because I grew up in Canada, I felt really ashamed of my culture and my traditions. I know a lot of other South Asian kids in North America who felt similarly and there was a lot of internalized racism there. You get made fun of a lot for how your food smells and how you dress. Art has helped me heal from that—it’s helped me fall back in love with that part of myself that I was denied for a long time. I do this by trying to include Bengali text in my works, drawing more traditional clothing, parts of my culture I think are fun and joyous, like going out after iftar, wearing really vibrant and colourful sarees. I’d like to continue rediscovering my culture through my art.

Munea Wadud. Plus Size Nude Series Art Print. Image Courtesy of the artist.

You celebrate body positivity in your art by depicting larger bodies, stretchmarks, and folks with larger noses. I was wondering if you could explain the importance of body positivity in your art and illustrations?

I am passionate about body positivity – it has helped me gain a lot of confidence and see myself in a much healthier way. It made me realize just how many of us struggle with body image issues, so I wanted to create more work that reflects people’s beauty. Things like stretch marks, cellulite, body hair, just larger bodies in general, are not depicted in a lot of art [and] it creates these unhealthy expectations of your body. You feel awful about the way you look and it’s really disheartening. I just want to make art that people can see themselves in. I want them to feel just as beautiful and important as anyone else because they are. It’s really important to me that representation is reflected in my work.

Munea Wadud. Support Black and Brown Artists sticker.Image Courtesy of the artist.

Your art explicitly advocates for support of Queer and Trans folks, particularly Black and Brown Queer and Trans artists, and does so by juxtaposing bright, colourful graphics and imagery (such as your arcade game print stating “Trans Rights are Human Rights”). Can you speak more about this juxtaposition and how you use it to convey important messages and advocacy? How do find creating multiples (like stickers and patches etc.) help communicate messages of support?

I just think that every space should be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) but often, I think a lot of work depicts sadness and struggle and though that is a reality for lots of minorities, our pain is not our only story. There’s a lot of media representing our obstacles and ways that we’ve overcome them. I just think I also want to see us being joyful and having good lives. I like adding bright colours and fun imagery with the same messages that represent inclusivity for QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) because we deserve to have those things too. So that’s why I create the juxtaposition.

Often, I think a lot of work depicts sadness and struggle and though that is a reality for lots of minorities, our pain is not our only story.

As for things like patches and stickers, I guess I’ve just always wanted some similar colourful and pastel designs but that reflect the views of minorities like me—I want people to feel included in my work and like their voices matter. So, I wanted to design my products in a way that fits this design aesthetic that I love but also incorporates really important issues that matter a lot like advocacy for LGBTQ+ folks, inclusivity of BIPOC folks, and much more!

I think it’s important because these are all items I as an independent artist have designed and have decided to share with folks, which is very different than big corporations who create similar messaging only to support themselves rather than the people being directly affected by these messages. I wanted to highlight that difference too, that although you can find intersectional and inclusive messaging in a lot of different stores now, it’s still important to look at who is making that product and for what reasons. 

Who are some artists (or other influences) that inspire your artistic practice?

I follow so many amazing artists that really inspire me every single day – ha.ha.ha.sina is a talented Black artist on Instagram and I love her painting style. I also follow Manahil Bandukwala who creates everything from watercolour pieces, to jewelry, to written works! There’s also Harar Hall (gold.tinted.glasses on Instagram) who’s work is super lovely as well – I love their poetry and how well it blends with their art style! And Lucky Little Queer who is a supportive fellow artist and creates amazing products too!

Munea Wadud. Trans Rights are Human Rights sticker.Image Courtesy of the artist.

Do you have any advice for other queer and BIPOC creators about starting an art business?

I know a lot of you are hesitant and nervous about starting a business, I was too. I used to feel like my work wasn’t good enough like I needed to practice more and wait longer to post something worthwhile. Honestly, looking back, I just wish I had started my online business sooner. And that’s the advice I have for you – your work is beautiful, you are talented, and I think you should still share it! I would love to see more BIPOC creators thrive and unapologetically show off their amazing art. 

Do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

Right now, I am working on a really big print restock of many of my series like my body positivity prints as well as a few others – so please keep an eye out on my Etsy store for that drop! I’ll be posting my latest updates on my Instagram so make sure to follow me on there.

Check out more of Munea Wadud’s art on their Etsy Store, Facebook and Instagram.

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