Vanja Vukelic is the storyteller, healer and illustrator behind MerakiLabbe. Vanja’s expression of women’s bodies and their fundamental connection to nature have taken social media by storm, moving women worldwide to reflect, connect and heal.
When did you start creating art?
I moved to Toronto fifteen years ago from former Yugoslavia, where I spent my days immersed in the abundance of the Earth. After travelling and living in South America in my twenties, healing and working with sacred plants, and sitting in ceremonies, I decided to re-design my reality of working meaningless jobs just to survive and dedicated myself to my meditation practice, sacred dream journalling, pushing my boundaries and body therapy.
I create visual meditations with symbolic messages in hope of stimulating personal change through unearthing of the subconscious.
After about two years of working as a Thai Massage therapist I synchronously started drawing mandalas and couldn’t stop. I started to tap into my inner wisdom, release patterns and connect even deeper with Earth. All these discoveries reawakened my voice and drawing manifested out of the deep desire to share my visions with the world.
Did you always think of yourself as an artist?
No, not really. I’ve always been creative. Different. Didn’t feel like I belonged. Writing and journalling are what I enjoy most and have been doing for as long as I can remember.
Each illustration is my personal story containing the silhouette of my body, in hope that through my own reflections you will come to recognise yourself.
I never really had a chance to explore myself creatively, mainly due to growing up in the war in Bosnia in the 90’s. But I see now that even then I survived and was nourished by my imagination. It has never let me down. Soon after the war I moved to Canada and was forced to think only on surviving, not having a lot of freedom to explore quality of life until I connected with a group of friends, artists and world travellers in my late teens. At that time, I knew I’d come back home.
I still don’t like to consider myself anything really. It’s easier for others to name us and that’s understandable but even to this day I don’t like labelling myself but am at the same time tenderly embracing the possibilities and adaptations of new ways of seeing. I only do what I love. And that is always changing for me.
What drives you to share your work?
Deep connection with the Earth and my intuition which guides me to harmonise the whole. To share Earth’s message and give her voice and simultaneously speak up for women who feel voiceless and dis-joined from nature.
Reoccuring themes dig into the alchemy and mysticism, while symbolically stimulating personal change through unearthing of the subconscious.
I want to embolden myself and others so all of us are able to recognise our individual and collective potential and hopefully open up new ways of seeing, shatter illusions of limiting and imposed believing and start fully living.
What motivates your images?
Guidance from my dreams. When I’m able to tap into the ever expanding container of consciousness only then I can see my visions and symbolic interpretations within.
The main concept and motivation behind my work is restoring the awareness between Women and Earth.
In order to practice being in alignment with the highest good I feel that what is received must be shared in hope for others to potentially relate.
What is your message?
My message is that of magic and love. Because they are one and the same. It’s a message of finding a way back to ourselves. And the only way I strongly believe that is possible is when we are in tune with the Earth and all beings in it. When we realise there is spirit in all things. A message of authenticity and living in the now, as awareness. Seeing beyond ordinary perceptions.
Raised by the mountains, trees, stars and streams, I value these relationships as guides in life.
It’s a message of sisterhood, support, impermanence, grace, equanimity and infinity. And also, it’s a message of honouring all those who came before us, plant, tree, animal and human beings and remembering that each one of us is a gift to all those breathing.
What are the spiritual and political aspects of your work and how do they compliment each other?
All art is a form of nourishment in one way or another, whether it be political or spiritual or something else. The deepest motive behind my creations that I have realised so far is the necessity to harmonise the collective and to question reality. That in itself is both political and spiritual because it gives the spectator the freedom to make their own assumptions of my art and afterwards the possibility of choices which one can make after those realisations.
I think art gives us freedom to think and feel for ourselves, without any authoritative imposition.
It’s both an alchemical process because it shifts consciousness into new landscapes but also provokes beliefs, attitudes and views on different subject matters, for example nudity and surrealism in my work.
What is your hope for the world and how does your art contribute to a brighter future?
I hope to only encourage and embolden others by my own life and actions. To lead by example. To do what I love, practice compassion and kindness and continue throwing myself out of the nest, over and over again. I hope my art can build bridges, open doors and redesign worlds.