Carol Rossetti is a designer and illustrator from Brazil, who has been making waves in feminist spaces lately with her series of illustrations entitled simply “Women“. The illustrations generally depict a woman dealing with some societal attitude towards her choices, appearance or identity, and include a positive message of support and solidarity.
It took Lorena a long time to find her sensuality because she has never seen herself represented as beauty, only as tragedy…
But you are so much more than the way the media portrays you, aren’t you, Lorena? Your wheelchair is freedom and it can run over anyone who reduces you to stereotypes.
When Carol first started sharing translations of her work in English, they were widely shared, and suddenly feminists around the world wanted them in their own languages – the Tel Aviv based feminist collective Sholefet first translated them into Hebrew, and then they were translated into Spanish, and now they are being translated into such various languages as Arabic, Russian, Italian, Czech, Lithuanian, Hindi, Norwegian, Romanian, Japanese, Malayalam, Tamil, Bahasa Melayu & Bahasa Indonesia…. It’s fair to say Carol has sparked something of a movement! Carol was kind enough to answer Femina Invicta’s questions about her work, and why she thinks its appeal is so universal.
Q: What does feminism mean to you? Can you tell us something about how your feminist consciousness has developed over time?
That’s a really interesting question. Some people see me nowadays and think I’ve always been like that, and that’s not true. I grew up and changed a lot. I was born in a country full of prejudice and oppression despite the whole diversity we have. Even though my parents are wonderful people, everybody is affected by their culture, and I grew up believing in some nasty stereotypes. If you asked me ten years ago, I’d probably say something silly like “I’m neither feminist or sexist, I’m humanist!” Common attitudes got me to believe that feminism was something unnecessary for these times, that the fight was over, women already got equality and now feminism is just a bunch of man-hating unloved women. There was a long process of deconstruction of my own concepts and prejudices. It took a lot of research, a lot of listening, learning and thinking. Reviewing our privileges is not something easy to do, but it’s necessary.
Q: What place does art fill in your life? Are there any particular artists that you are inspired by?
I think that illustration has always been a way of expressing myself. I usually don’t talk much about myself. I’m an only child, and maybe because of that I have always felt comfortable alone. Solitude has never been a problem to me; I’m actually really fond of having some moments for myself. My way of expressing my feelings and my identity was always through drawing. I tried acting and playing the guitar, but it didn’t really work out. There are many artists that have inspired me in different ways, in different moments of my life. Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, Will Eisner, Marjani Strapi, Criag Thompson, Quino, Crepax…
Q: What do you think the connection is between art and feminism?
I think feminism is something very important and very complex. It needs to be spread, to be talked about; it needs to get out of this bubble of young, white, European women. In so many parts of the world, feminism is still very misunderstood and unknown. And I truly believe that art and design can do a lot to make it easier to understand. When it comes to information, design can do a wonderful job. And when it comes to emotion, I think art is always a great answer.
Q: Do you see art as a form of activism? How do you see feminist art fitting in with, or contributing to, other forms of activism?
Art is expression. It expresses ideas, feelings, and identities. And none of those is detached from politics. We need to deconstruct this idea that politics is something for politicians. Politics is everybody’s business, and it’s not a synonym to bureaucracy. It’s pretty much in everything: our culture, our routines, our jobs… The only people who can really afford to think that politics is not their business are the ones that are very privileged. People who have never had anything denied to them because of their gender, sexuality, race, nationality, ethnicity and beliefs. The rest of us can’t afford this luxury, we need to fight every day to be respected and accepted. Some need to fight more, some need to fight less. But it’s really important to understand that art is not detached from politics because art IS politics in so many ways. Whenever we make a statement, whenever we say that something needs to change, whenever we realize there’s a fight to be fought… Well, that’s politics, and art is a tool that we have to express ideas and change the world. And feminist art is so very important! Now that we have so many people accessing the internet, I see a huge potential of reaching people, and that’s amazing!
Q: Your “Women” series has become quite successful! How did the series begin? Did you expect it to make such waves? What are the most exceptional and/or exciting responses you’ve received?
I’ve never really expected such visibility. I wanted to practice my technique with colored pencils on kraft paper and I thought I might as well do it while sending a positive message to my friends who already followed my page. I think what led me to it was a day when I saw this friend of mine sharing a photo on Facebook of a fat woman wearing yoga pants, and the caption was “ouch my eyes”. Well, I was really intrigued by how and unknown person’s dressing choice could be so annoying to someone that would get this person to say something so disrespectful about it on Facebook – which I believe is not that different from shouting it to a whole neighborhood. So my first drawing was about a fat girl wearing a horizontal stripes dress. But she had a name. She was called Marina. And she had a friendly face. And there was a text saying she loved that dress, and a friendly advice at the end to wear it and be happy. I guess it worked, because my friend shared this illustration and I’ve never seen her saying anything mean to other women ever since. On the contrary, she actually started sharing some feminist content that I never expected to see on her timeline!
Now, the responses were very diverse. Most of them are very positive, people thanking me and telling me never to stop with it. A few of them were aggressive and/or disrespectful, but at the end I managed to handle it well. I was very shocked to see people thanking me and saying that my work really got them through a very difficult time in their lives. I didn’t see that coming. It’s amazing, but it feels weird, because I don’t really feel like I’m doing something amazing. My work feels really simple, actually. It’s good; I think so, but not genius. It’s really just about respect in the end.
Q: Where do you get the ideas for the illustrations in the series? Are they based on real women?
The characters are not real, but the situations are. Some of them I observed in my friends, my relatives or even myself. But I usually change names and features. Except for Whitney (which is Whitney Thore, the Fat Girl Dancing) and Aline (Aline Lemos, a fellow artist and friend).
Q: The series has been very well received all around the world – what do you think makes women from such different locations and backgrounds identify with your work?
I think gender oppression is something real all around, but in different ways. In this group we have on Facebook with all the translators, it was clear that there were differences, both in women’s rights and in cultural aspects. But still there is a common feeling that feminism is still necessary – in some places more than others, of course, but there’s still a lot to fight for. For example, maybe abortion is already legal in Japan, but on the other hand there’s an enormous pressure for women to get married there, as if they were not complete without a husband. So, there are many different aspects to be discussed.
Q: What artists do you recommend?
When it comes to illustrations and comics, I think there are many people worth getting to know. In Brazil I see many women with a fantastic work, like Aline Lemos, Samie Carvalho (who is actually in Japan, but she’s Brazilian too), Lu Cafaggi, Cris Peter, Bi Anca… There are the eternal great ones like Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, Craig Thompson, Marjani Strapi, Melind Gebbie… Oh, recently I read one from Israel that I really liked. It’s called “Farm 54”, from Galit and Gilad Seliktar.
Q: And a sort of unfair question to end with – do you have a favorite from among your “Women” illustrations?
Hahaha! That’s evil! Like asking a mother which is her favorite child, right? Well, I really liked the colors in Susan and Elisa… :)
Amanda decided that shaving just isn’t her thing…
Amanda, it’s your body, and you do whatever you want with it. No social convention should have a say in your identity.