Manuja Waldia’s vibrant illustrations span a wide range of subjects from Shakespeare to self-love. After graduating from university with a degree in communication design, the Portland-based illustrator has produced impressive work for a number of mega-brands; Manuja created a Google doodle to commemorate the Indian singer Begum Akhtar on her 103rd birthday, she designed dainty Indianapolis city maps for PrintText and continues to illustrate the book covers for Pelican’s Shakespeare series. Her signature style can be seen on search engines and bookshelves alike, but it is Manuja’s personal work that really caught our eye. Focusing on female empowerment and the importance of sisterhood, Manuja’s self-initiated illustrations are populated by elegant figures that clearly understand the meaning of feminism.
Fabrics and textiles are among Manuja’s main sources of inspiration, which comes as no surprise. Through repeated lines and subtle colour nuances, Manuja creates the illusion of texture, transforming her two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional etchings. The illustrator also names Persian and Indian miniature painting as being a key influence. Much like traditional miniature paintings, Manuja’s work is highly detailed and provides an accurate record of social and cultural life, albeit for 21st-century women rather than 16th century Indians. Her use of expressive colours and balanced compositions also point to the age-old craft.
Manuja’s work is a particularly powerful celebration of women of colour who rarely see themselves represented in the mainstream media. “I hope my illustrations feel representational of women of colour like me who are underrepresented in both popular culture and illustration. The women in my work relish their existence. They are not just surviving but also supporting one another through whatever may come their way while still having a self-assured good time,” the illustrator tells It’s Nice That. Bold and striking, Manuja’s illustrations are a refreshing example of strong female protagonists carrying out their daily routines in their vivid environments.
“I like drawing women nurturing one another, building things together or just existing," Manuja continues. "Sometimes they are shown working hard like a colony of ants, while other times they refuel with self-care.” The illustrator’s intricate drawings depict women free of the male gaze; her illustrations are populated by women nurturing themselves by looking after each other. Manuja’s genius is her incorporation of illustrated Glossier serums and hand-drawn Parachute hair products that anchor these female-centric narratives straight in the modern day.