The beautiful intricate detailing of Manuja Waldia's artwork is captivating and features the most divine storytelling.
Her illustrations are quaint and dreamy, depicting women nurturing each other with everything from food, modern skin care routines and with fond memories. Commissioned by Penguin Books for developing the book covers for the entire works on William Shakespeare, Manuja speaks to us about her favourite pieces from the series and how they differ from her personal work. The young talent is well on her way to great success in the design world, splitting her time working as a visual designer and developing her own stories through personal projects in her spare time. We are blessed to have caught her between it all! You can keep up with Manuja here
I am an artist currently in Portland, Oregon. From 7-2, I work as a visual designer at Genesys. I paint in the evenings and on weekends.
When did you fall in love with art and designing?
As soon as I could grab a crayon. I’ve always been aware of the therapeutic nature of doing something creative, even as a toddler.
One of our favourite pieces of work was the commissioned piece for Google to commemorate the 103rd birthday of Indian classical artist, Begum Akhtar! What was your ideas process like when creating this particular piece of work?
I loved working on it, she’s one of my role models. I listen to her ghazals while painting, so it felt surreal to make a Google doodle celebrating her. I wanted to base the final doodle on iconic vintage photos of her which are beloved by fans like me, but add some symbolism and easter-eggs for the true fans. Begum was very stylish and always well turned out, so I paid special attention to her jewels and sari, decorating it with a motif of Phoenixes. Like the mythical creature, she always arose from the ashes of tragedy, fiercer than ever.
You’ve previously mentioned Persian and Indian miniature paintings as a key influence for your work, could you describe your process for your paintings. How does it differ to your digital illustrations?
All my work is digital, including the paintings inspired by Persian and Indian paintings. I love embracing technology to further my work and working digitally lets me concentrate on the ideas. I start with a wordlist of what I want to draw, look at my inspiration books—textiles, miniatures, fashion, photography, cinema, sculpture, etc. Next comes painting.
Your work often reflects the cultural and social aspects of modern life, within the 16th-century miniature style, what had drawn you interpret such a beautiful craft?
The craft looks miniature-y as I am self-taught and looked at classical art to learn composition, color, etc. However the ideas are mine, so the work seems relevant culturally/modern. Women are my muses, each generation making it easier or future generations and their allies. In my paintings the figures are modern, a hyper-evolved ultra-femme, a product of years and generations of struggle, oppression, tragedy and glorious resilience.
The women in your paintings can be seen nurturing each other with food, modern-day self-care products and physical expression. Could you tell us a time where nurturement and self-care impacted your life the most?
It's the most important thing in our lives. Everything else can wait. As women, we are taught to sacrifice ourselves in the service of our goals and families. The women in my paintings have big goals for themselves and the world in their generation. They understand all of us are inherently the same and want the same things, but we all have a different journey. The least we can do is to nurture each other through that journey. Although I caution against the aspect of self-care which is highly consumerist, appropriating from the community of color and profiting off their hard work.
Your cat, Crookshanks aka Kitty Baby is adorable, could you tell us more about her? How long have you been roommates?
Thank-you! I love him, he’s seven years old. He is an anxious cat, but once he latches on to somebody he loves them! He plays fetch like a dog. We’ve been besties/roomies since 2015.
What was your favourite piece from the Shakespeare commission?
I love collaborating with the Penguin art team, it’s a dream job. My favorite ones are the ones where I was able to create a fresh take on some of the more iconic titles whose covers have been done so many times.
What is your biggest inspiration?
Cinema, especially new-wave socialist films from 1950-80s India. I adore Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal & Govind Nihalani.
You were born India, studying in New Delhi and now living in the US, how has your multiculturalism influenced your work?
My aesthetic is deeply rooted in India as I am heavily inspired by Indian society, art, culture, color, architecture, textiles and cinema. The US inspires me to be individualistic and embrace my unique strengths and voice. There is a lot of outright fascist shit AND counter-resistance going on in both countries, and I am less surprised every day by how similar the two cultures are if you examine them closely.
What do you miss about living in India?
The street food!
What are you currently working on?
More paintings. I am thinking of making some fabric products next like rugs, blankets and socks.
Your fashion style is stunningly unique, completely in tune with your art and design work. What inspires your fashion style?
I love watching documentaries about cults and even in the Handmaid’s Tale they control people by censoring dress. When it’s for self-expression, fashion/style can be used to declare personal independence, but it’s also a slippery slope. Fast and luxury fashion is built on the backs of people oppressed in India, Bangladesh and Vietnam and I want to do nothing with it. Even ethical fashion has a big impact on the environment, and do I really need 4 brand new shirts when I already have 2 perfectly fine ones? I try to swap and thrift my clothes and style an outfit as per I am feeling that day. Somedays I feel like a chic grandma who works at a design studio, other days I am a punk rocker who is a web developer during the day.
How do you like to wear sneaks? Are you a casual wearer or do you like to dress it up?
I love seeing them on others but don’t like buying them myself as I am frugal. I love monochromes. I own exactly 2 pairs, all-white and all-black.