This story has also been translated into Italian. Thank you to Naomi!
The art world is constantly evolving. What has remained the same, but ever so important, is the commentary artists have made on social issues through their work. Whether it be imagery of wartime tragedies, criticism of the current political climate, or social injustices of their time, these major themes have carried on through the creative eyes of artists for centuries.
In the 21st century, Naomi Vona is doing just that. Vona’s art combines collages, illustrations and photography. Through these mediums, she creates works of art which are intimately connected to her perspectives of the fashion industry, feminism, and the theme of time, which she often symbolizes through her use of vintage photos; her goal being to bring the past to the future.
Born and raised in Italy, Naomi has always been curious about art. As a child, she frequently experimented with mediums such as paint, with her interest in collaging at such a young age being sparked by her love for Italian comic books and Japanese Manga. By the time she reached high school, Naomi was able to choose a school which specialized specifically in art, in which she could take courses like sculpture or architecture. And so, by the time she was 14, her art journey began, eventually leading her to the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, Italy. She began to study product and fashion design.
Now based in London, Naomi is inspired most by surrealism and pop art. Something you will see in almost all of her art, is her ability to work with existing images, transforming them into something completely new, unique and personal. In 2002, Naomi began to paint on top magazines. In 2017, a few years after graduating from university, she began working more extensively on collages, finding images (especially vintage photos) and giving them a new life and story. This later led to one of her most well known projects, Selling Lies, which took her three years to complete. Initially inspired by the Instagram challenge “100 days project”, Naomi transformed a fashion magazine into a visual diary, creating “a bridge of communication between the meaningless ads and [her] personal point of view about the fashion industry” while also interacting within her community. Initially, she wanted to transform the models into something like monsters or fearful creatures, giving them personality and a role as so much more than just a model. When she began collaging again in 2017, her goal for her 100 day project was to critique the fashion industry and how female bodies are perceived, creating meaningful messages using her art style.
The “100 days project” was also inspired by Naomi's experiences living in Milan, where high fashion and designer goods are around every corner you look at, and everything seems to be shiny and perfect. Naomi likes to create art that is against something so pretty and glamorous because, in reality, it is all superficial. Even though we have seen a drastic change in the fashion industry over the past decade, including an uptick in inclusivity, Naomi emphasizes that they are still only hitting the surface. Her three areas of concern are the lack of depth in the industry, hyperconsumerism, and the constant pressure put on models to remain thin.
What is the future of art, fashion and analog photography? That is a question Vona is attempting to answer through her workshops. In 2017, Naomi began doing workshops with an artist friend of hers who worked for Facebook. Not only was she able to experience talking about her art, but she was also connecting with her community, giving them tools to be creative. This ability to connect, along with her first workshop at Facebook, was the catalyst for Naomi to try to create workshops of her own. One of Naomi’s most used mediums is Washi tape (a kind of Japanese tape). She got in contact with a UK reseller who had collaborated with other artists in the past to do workshops. Noting Naomi’s talent and use of washi tape, they began booking venues for Naomi to teach workshops. This launched her into being able to work with other brands and companies as well. After this, Naomi realized she wanted to do workshops on her own terms, and began to reach out to art stores who could accommodate her. Instead of just making art for herself, Naomi was now able to make intimate connections with her students, something Naomi emphasized is much more important to her than the simple act of creating art alone.
Vona constantly reminds her students to look towards the past in order to understand what needs to be created in the present, and for the future of society. She also reminds them of the critical approach to what we see, telling her students not to pass through the things we look at without thinking about them on a deeper level. For example, when she teaches her students how to redesign their own magazines, she asks them to look at the advertisement before painting over them, making sure they think critically about what other messages the image is telling us about ourselves.
To Naomi, being critical is more important than observing passively. It’s a dangerous game to absorb without thinking, which is what much of advertising allows us to do. Without critically thinking about the advertisements being fed to us today, especially surrounding body image (like ads for weight loss and plastic surgery), we allow ourselves to get caught up in the message, folding into our insecurities without understanding the barbarity of what is even being sold to us. We need to understand the messages that surround us in order to understand what needs to be changed, Vona emphasizes to her students.
What started as a creative outlet for Naomi has turned into a community of artists of all ages. From Naomi’s popularity growth from her “100 Days Challenge”, to her ability to create workshops to share her skills, what has become most important to her is setting an example for younger generations of what they can achieve for the future. Through critical thinking and art, we can evolve as creative people, not just human beings. And especially for the youth, Naomi encourages them to accept that they can participate in things much larger than themselves. A small difference can become a huge one once we share what we think. Just like fashion and an increase in hyperconsumerism, where trends change and go away within a month, Naomi stresses the importance of connecting yourself to your life, rather than what is trendy. With the power of connection, community, critical thinking and the power of our voices, younger generations can continue to make the best out of the worst, especially during the digital era.
Naomi's playlist for Withitgirl!
Lena grew up in New York City and came to the West Coast to study Graphic Design and Communications. She enjoys making art (especially collaging), being outdoors, finding new music, and hopes to improve her surfing skills in the next year. Lena is the team leader for the Talkaboutit podcast. Lena is currently finishing her academic studies at UCSB.
All media courtesy of the artist
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