“I chose the title ‘I Am Woman’ as a declaration of my identity and solidarity with other women.”
I consider myself to be an artist, as opposed to a ‘woman artist’
Carol Muthiga-Oyekunle is a Kenyan-American artist and accessories designer. Her foundation in graphic design and a career as a luxury accessories designer has influenced her work. Lolita Lorenzo (named for her daughters Chiara Lola and Siena Lorenza) showcases her multiple disciplines: eyewear, minaudière, jewelry, home decor, illustration, and fine art. Carol is a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London (MA in Fashion). She lives and works in Paris.
In the works of Carol Muthiga-Oyekunle, women are portrayed as symbolic warriors, radiating strength and joy. Combining digital and mixed-media collage methods with photography and vivid graphical elements, the artist skillfully interweaves techniques to create bold and brilliant portraits of her female subjects. The resulting art depicts feminist themes from the past, present and imagined futures, holding up a mirror to a patriarchal society.
We spoke to Carol about her art, style of illustration, inspiration, and the importance of her female subjects. Here’s what she had to say:
Hi Carol! Can you tell us something interesting about yourself?
That’s a tough one! I think there are many interesting things about me. One that not many people know is that I was once featured in a Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich, Traffic) film as ‘myself’. I had a boutique in New York at the time and he filmed a scene there for an entire day. He asked me to improvise my lines, which was rather daunting to an introvert like me (and he is Steven Holy Soderbergh!). In any case, I got through it with remarkable ease. It was a truly magical moment that I was a part of and remember fondly. The film is called “The Girlfriend Experience”. Blink and you might miss me, lol!
How would you describe your personal style of artwork/illustration?
I would say that my signature style is rooted in my graphic design/visual communication background. There is a ‘vintage’ feel that is reminiscent of traditional offset lithography that has a distinct ‘dot pattern’. Even though my collages are created digitally, I make them feel like they are enlarged pages from a magazine. My experimental approach involves fusing disparate elements and styles into a cohesive whole – this is where the magic happens. The elements that adorn my women visually appear to be ‘floral’, but are actually fishtails, sea creatures, and enlarged microbes. I am obsessed with the notion of camouflage. Things are not always what they seem – which is a metaphor for life.
I refer to the central hero in my artwork as “The Intergalactic, Time Traveling, Warrior, Woman.” She is the past, present, and future. And she is here now.
Carol, your art is so unusual and mesmerizing. What first inspired you to pursue such a unique creative direction for women?
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” as Plato says. I launched my career as a Luxury Accessories designer because I saw a gap in the market and I could not find pieces that I liked, so I decided to make them myself. In that space, I created a distinct visual language that is unique to Lolita Lorenzo (my brand). When Covid-19 hit and the world came to a grinding halt. For the first time, I started to make art with no expectation or end goal in mind. I had time to create just for myself outside the ‘fashion machine’. This was true freedom. Connecting all the dots. I chose to focus on women because I can authentically tell my story through them. I depict them from a position of strength, optimism, joy, and triumph. And they end up becoming self-portraits, somehow.
What artists are you inspired by?
My technique draws on a wide range of classic and modern influences – everything from Klimt, Matisse, Mucha, Lichtenstein, and Bearden to contemporary artists Kehinde Wiley, Wole Lagunju, Nick Cave, Bisa Butler, and Wangechi Mutu.
What has been the biggest satisfaction you have experienced in your art career?
Honestly, just the ability to create. The realization that I have been blessed with a unique gift and I have the privilege of being able to practice it every day. I have an amazing gallery and collectors that believe in and support my work. I am currently working on my first solo show, which is a dream come true. And I absolutely LOVE my job!
What challenges did you face as a female artist?
I consider myself to be an artist, as opposed to a ‘woman artist’. Of course, there are elements rooted in our patriarchal society that dictate the metaphorical ‘boxes’ we put people in—the idea of ‘othering’. Certainly, as a woman, especially one that looks like me, I have had my fair share of adversity in life. The only ‘challenges’ I have faced are those I have posed to myself: to always be curious, to learn, to grow, and to simply push through. I have learned to stand firmly and claim my space.
What advice do you have for emerging female artists?
Practice your craft every single day in whatever form or fashion. Little things add up. Be patient. Know your vision and stay true to your path, no matter how challenging it may be. Be authentic and the Universe will meet you where you are. Trust in your journey and let gratitude be your guide.
What made you come up with ‘I Am Woman’? Can you tell us more about ‘I Am Woman’? Why did you pick this title?
My ancestral heritage is Agikuyu: an indigenous community from what is now Central Kenya. Our society was originally matriarchal. Even our name for ‘God’ is female. We say “Ngai ni Mumbi”: Mumbi means the Creator. Mumbi is the Mother of our nation—the equivalent of Eve in Genesis. The idea of the Woman being the originator and center of life is ingrained in my DNA.
I chose the title ‘I Am Woman’ as a declaration of my identity and solidarity with other women. This is a signifier of the journey that we are all on. Our common experiences and the battles that often go unseen. We are all connected.
Your art celebrates the female form. Can you share a few words on the power of women?
“A woman’s strength is a multitude of words.”— African proverb.
A woman is a source. The giver of life. A mother. A protector. A nurturer. A lover, partner, sister, and friend. An artist, an activist. A supporter, educator, and provider. A warrior. She is everything and anything she wants to be.
What are your thoughts on collaborating with Motiva?
The idea for my Motiva came from the desire to depict a Woman that represents All Women. A strong woman, who is unafraid to take up the space that she deserves, unapologetically. She stands tall in adversity and joyfully celebrates her victories. I drew on quotes from my favorite feminist authors and public figures. Creating the art was organic and intuitive. The process was led by these wise women’s words that resonate so deeply in me. What I love about Motiva is that they have innovated a technology that allows artists to subtly combine their visuals with inspirational words. A new form of expression that combines digital with analog. I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to the endless creative possibilities ahead!
I dedicate this artwork to my daughters: Chiara Lola and Siena Lorenza.