We’re huge supporters of using all different types of platforms to raise awareness about important issues. Politics, activism and protests have their place in creating change in the world, but so does art and creativity. Many of us have probably experienced “light bulb” moments, or had our minds and hearts opened by messages we see being shared through creative means, rather than corporate ones.
We have also shared a number of articles where artists create comic strips, illustration series and controversial boundary-pushing exhibitions in order to create awareness about topics which are important to them. This is something we feel is an important part of our feminism and we want to share that with our community of readers.
An artist who we recently discovered is quite the feminist sensation on social media, which has allowed her to leverage her message in other ways. Joanna Thangiah is a Sri Lankan-Australian artist who has been sharing her unique, colorful art on Instagram, where she has over 44,000 followers and counting.
The 27 year-old’s drawings of women each with their own empowering and important message in a bubble have been shared on a number of blogs and websites around the world, and we can see why. Some of the topics she touches on include body positivity, fat-shaming, rape culture, racism, and sexism.
Mental illness is also an important topic for Joanna as she began her artistic journey after being diagnosed with a number of them a few years ago. At the age of 24, she had a breakdown. She was suffering from an eating disorder, had quit her job, and was put on medication for her illnesses. She had moved away from her family and started seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist, but found healing through creativity.
“I initially started illustrating whilst I was in recovery from an eating disorder, as a way to help me love and accept my body as well as help me deal with being diagnosed with a string of mental illnesses. I was also in a turbulent relationship, which made me feel worthless and powerless. Drawing was the only thing that made me feel better about my situation, and it did give me the power to finally escape,” she told Julie Sprankles at Bustle in an interview.
One of the reasons that led Joanna to raise her voice through this medium was the knowledge that there needs to be more of a widespread discussion of these topics in order to truly see progress.
“It’s so important because my story is in no way unique, yet nobody really talks about it…even though the [body positive] and feminist community is vast, it is in no way mainstream — we’re still hidden away in an obscure place on the internet,” she said.
Some of her images are strikingly timely, including the “If things don’t change, we’re all going to need rape insurance” post. In an interview with ATTN.com, she said it was pure coincidence that it was posted around the same time the Brock Turner rape case exploded. Her image was drawn 2 years previously and touched on her own experience with sexual assault, as a way of coming to terms with it.
“Every day I read an article about someone being sexually assaulted; it’s a huge part of my life. But yes, I do draw inspiration from current events,” she told ATTN’s Tricia Tongco.
When she started posting her work on Instagram, she had no idea what the body positivity movement was, but after receiving so many comments from people who were appreciative of her work, Joanna realized it was not just about expressing her own life story, but reflecting that of others also.
“When I started posting my art on Instagram, I didn’t know what body positivity was or that there was a movement. But they found me and embraced me, and I’m so very grateful,” she said.
“I started drawing these characters as a way to feel good about myself…I felt conflicted – I was the happiest and healthiest I had ever been in my life, but according to the world, [which] bases everything on looks, I wasn’t. For the majority of my life, I hated myself — as a child I fantasized about being a white, thin, hairless girl, because that is all that I saw. It didn’t matter that my parents said that I was beautiful, because there was no evidence at the time to reinforce their statements,” she explained.
There are some who claim her work isn’t 100% inclusive, but Joanna is quick to point out why.
“I guess some people may argue that my work isn’t body-positive, because I don’t really draw skinny characters. My art is based on my life — my experience with being skinny was debilitating and isn’t exactly something I want to express through my art,” she said.
As for her desire to see more discussion and support for those who have mental illness, Joanna says she had an “ah-ha” moment a couple of years ago while watching a news show about mothers who murder their own children.
“Watching this made me feel sick! Not just because I was horrified about a mother killing their kids, but also because I could identify with them. All these women suffered from the same mental illnesses as me but they were untreated. I kept thinking, what if that was me? It made me so sad; if these women were aware [of] their illnesses or had access to mental health facilities, then they may not have killed their children,” she said.
It certainly is a wake-up moment to all of us when we look around at the problems in society and continually read stories about people doing hurtful things to others because of an untreated or un-diagnosed mental illness. And it is why Joanna and many other artists’ work is so important, because it has the ability to create a community of support for those who don’t know where to turn for encouragement to know they are not alone.
“My mental illnesses were pretty much ignored for 24 years of my life because my parents weren’t aware…As a society, we have no issues with blaming ‘crazy’ people when something horrible happens but we seem to be unaware that there is a pretty simple solution: awareness,” she said.
The awareness she is creating now goes beyond just her Instagram account. You can not only buy some of these illustrations, but you can wear a t-shirt or other clothing items with some of her signature drawings from her online store.
The images shared in this article are just a few of our favorites found on her Instagram page. We could seriously fangirl all day, but we suggest you check out and follow Joanna Thangiah to see what we’re talking about!