Varoom magazine is renowned as a hub of discussion for the illustration community, and an advocate for innovative approaches to the practice. Its new editor, Olivia Ahmad, describes the intention for each issue as being "[to convey] a live reflection of what is happening in illustration at any given moment… presenting new work and giving insight into how it’s done, but also asking questions about it – why make it? – what does it mean to people?” Bringing her experience as curator at the House of Illustration, her appreciation for contemporary practices in illustration is underpinned by historical knowledge, which will have no doubt informed the latest issue.
Titled, “Activism”, the new issue’s cover is illustrated by Bráulio Amado and sets itself apart from other publications by creating a space to capture emerging debates at an early stage. One article offers differing opinions on the subject of art-washing, while another looks at the leading independent magazines such as gal-dem, OOMK and Yellowzine which “challenge underrepresentation and tokenism in publishing.” Additionally, Stuart Lang, creative director of We Launch discusses whether big brands getting involved in political campaigns can ever really be genuine.
A common misconception of illustration is that it is one-dimensional, however Varoom’s subject-matter helps us understand that all wider-world ideas are equally as pertinent to illustration as other creative disciplines. Olivia explains how “the definition of what illustrators do is expanding all the time”. Whether the work is personal or commissioned, an illustrator’s unique voice is always embedded in the work, “even a tight brief to advertise a product can tell us a lot about society and what’s considered ‘desirable’… Illustrators have a toolkit of largely unrecognised skills that are essential for coming up with the images for which they are commissioned”.
There are infinite potentials for the application of drawing, illustration and illustrative thinking. However in the 1990s, the illustration industry took a bad turn with rapid technological advancements resulting in ubiquitous design software being used to create images that took space from illustrators. Nonetheless, illustration has remained resilient and commissioners are increasingly seeing the value of an illustrator’s distinctive visual language, especially “now that all our daily lives are flooded with photographs and other media competing for our attention.”
It seems certain that there will be exciting progressions in the field of illustration and Varoom offers an essential platform where illustrator’s can demonstrate their abilities. Olivia credits organisations like the Association of Illustrators, who publish Varoom, to positively direct the industry. They are “absolutely vital in establishing fair conditions for illustrators – proper rates of pay, crediting and copyright ownership – there’s a long way to go… I think that a lot of illustrators are making work for which an infrastructure doesn’t yet exist, and while that’s challenging, it’s also an opportunity for illustrators to create those infrastructures. It’s really inspiring to see illustrators working more and more as curators, writers, events organisers and publishers to support new practices – who better to do it?!”