Shawna X, the artist behind the vibrant graphical illustrations gracing the likes of The New Yorker, Adidas and Samsung, has experienced a shift in identity recently. Amidst her glowing artworks blending together hues of fluorescence into an array of figures, the New York-based artist has recently started “challenging everything.” The newfound mindset is a consequence of her latest role – and arguably her most important – that of becoming a mother.
“I am embracing MUM ENERGY” she tells It’s Nice That on this new form of expression that is “trippy, intense yet gentle and nurturing all in one.” Relaying a transformation that is “extraordinary but also painful as hell,” Shawna’s new experience of motherhood has totally reshaped her identity, evident in a new body of work produced since the birth of her daughter.
Injecting the creative industry with a much-needed and refreshing dose of what it’s like to be a new mum, Shawna’s recent work expresses the physical and emotional transformation that it has induced. “Being a mother has added another layer of complexity to the human experience,” she says. “Which in turn, has added another layer to my original thought process, perspectives both to and from gender and sex, as well as my connection to other people. I’m challenging everything I was taught and absorbed growing up, reexamining and filtering it again, this time with clarity and a bigger purpose than my own desires.”
Now, Shawna’s primary objective is to extend this conversation out with her individual experiences and change the creative industries. “My main goal is to make motherhood/birth/the power of a woman a regular conversation in the art and design space by creating work that talks about these exact things,” explains the artist. Through a series of moving artworks, she depicts the physical exertion of birth, the change in stamina, the loss of hair, the feeling of milk squirting out of a sexualised body part to nurture her child, not to mention the need to hold onto her past self.
“There is so much I’m exploring that I want to capture, and then share with irreverence,” Shawna goes on to say. “I want to speak honestly through work that isn’t glossed over and the best way I’ve been able to communicate honestly is through my art.” As a youngster, she didn’t think envision herself ever really becoming an illustrator. It was a way for Shawna to share her personal experiences and life lessons, and as time went on, the medium became so much a part of her lifestyle, it also became her profession.
Now as a new mother, navigating the industry with a little baby at her side and the responsibilities that come with it, Shawna offers up some useful advice to other mothers experiencing something similar. “Take. Your. Time. You are in a very vulnerable space in your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual journey,” she says. “Take your time to hibernate and let your power sit for a little bit. Feel your power, let it nurture you and your child. Protect it.” She hopes that the industry can and will change alongside the growing conversation around parenting in the creative industry, starting with a shift in attitude towards motherhood and parenthood in general.
“We grew up with the notion that the woman has to decide between her role as a house maker or a career woman,” evaluates Shawna on the effects of the ongoing patriarchy. “In the UK and the US, parenthood is not seen as a priority as evidenced by the ridiculously short amount of paid parental leave, but I do think we are gifted with the ability to challenge tradition.” In a time where information is more accessible than ever before, we have options. “We can research and understand our choices” says Shawna, “and many people can utilise the flexibility of a freelancer. I do believe the landscape of parenthood is evolving and I know the industry will adjust accordingly. Perhaps I’m too idealistic right now but the point is, I know I can make it work.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.