Writer, Artist, Mother
Vanja Vukelic's aspiration is that her writing and art will evoke a profound sense of being and expand collective awareness of the enchantment woven into the ordinary moments of this beautiful, intricate, and multilayered life we all share on Earth.
What is your favorite place in nature? Describe it for us. Paint the scene how you'd like.
A lush forest with a winding path, overgrown with nettles, mugwort, and fragrant herbs and flowers of the wild. I walk barefoot with awe in my heart. A vibrant stream trickling along the way, birds chirping, hummingbirds playing, coyotes howling, quails crowing, and sun rays glistening through the trees. There, in the centre of a million grassy wands stands an elder Oak tree ; a grand poem of the living world, the guardian of many souls. I sit with the Oak elder, breathe deeply, and listen to its wisdom reverberating in my body.
Thank you for that. Now that we feel grounded, let's begin. I’m thrilled to learn about your newest offering, Multilayered. Can you tell us a little about this creative project?
Multilayered is a creative project close to my heart, aimed at peeling back the intricate layers of life's experiences. Through storytelling, art, and introspection, I aspire to illuminate the profound within the ordinary, challenging conventional perspectives and inviting deeper connections with our shared humanity. With Multilayered, my hope is to foster a community where authenticity thrives, creativity flourishes, and the magic inherent in our complex, beautiful, and multilayered existence becomes more vividly apparent.
What was your experience like in postpartum following the birth of your son? What transformed or shifted? How did you hold space for yourself at this time?
It was really challenging and painful for the first few weeks. Ben and I had just returned from a 10-month road trip driving from Oaxaca to Joshua Tree, and our plan was to keep driving and settle in the Bay area. However, life had other plans for me, and because of my fibroid surgery year prior, I knew I was going to have a planned c-section. At that point it got too risky to drive, and we needed to stay with Ben’s mom in the desert. The situation was far from ideal. I didn’t have my sacred space to welcome my son into, my art, my comfort, my community. The doula I found turned out not to be a great fit, and living with Ben’s mom was challenging in more ways than one. I craved familiar faces, nature, my own mother, a strong feminine support system. Instead, Ben took excellent care of me by cooking healing Kitchari and warm meals every day, and tending to my every need. We made a warm, holy space in one of the rooms that was filled with love, where the three of us shared moments of bonding, and growing together. As soon as I was able to walk, I started going on short daily walks in the desert to talk to nature and orient myself in my new role of motherhood. The thing that transformed the most for me was seeing how the immense love for my son called me into deeper connection with life, for myself, and for him. I gave myself the right of passage from maiden to mother by communing with nature and leaning into the wisdom of my body. I held space for this transformation by devoting time to zen practice with my teacher, weekly acupuncture, nature walks, nourishing food, and rest. I didn’t have as much time to draw or write, so I learned to bake as a way of making art, I took my camera everywhere and documented our precious moments, and I mothered myself. Soon after we moved to a house of my dreams and created an intentional, warm, sacred space for ourselves and our son.
Your illustrative work has been potent and received intimately by many women and mothers. What was the inspiration for the first iteration of your art and how did it feel to share this female form with the world?
I worked with sacred plant medicines since I was twenty years old, but not until my mid twenties when I lived on/ off in Brazil did I start to slowly integrate nature’s messages I received. In one of the sacred sits I was guided to heal my generational traumas, heal my womb and the womb of my mother. Something truly beautiful happened then. I felt the earth’s heartbeat synchronized with my own, and I stayed laying on the warm dusty floor until the next morning. This was my first embodied experience of interconnectedness with the living world that made sense to me. I felt empowered, clear, and ready to relay this message to women. The message was so strong that I had no other way but share it. I taught myself to draw, practiced every day, and was committed to finding a creative language that can empower others to see themselves as one with nature. It felt liberating to follow this guidance and trust my inner voice.
Speaking of female form, I’d love to learn more about your connection to mother earth. You’ve lived in vastly different environments in the last few years. Did becoming a mother demand a new natural world to live amongst?
Becoming a mother only fortified that which I always knew ; that I must keep moving and living in as many diverse environments as I can. As a maiden I thought I had all the time in the world, as a Mother I know I don’t. My relationship with nature, since childhood, is my only constant, safe, guiding force in life. Nature is my soulmate, teacher, my mother, friend, my healer. In nature is where I feel safe to be unconditionally myself. This freedom to know myself and be myself is what I want to pass onto my son, and the only way to do so, is out in the woods, the ocean, the road, the mountains, the meadows, and the deserts of the world.
Your photography is euphoric and ethereal. Your illustrations are grounding and inspiring. Your jewelry line is captivating and empowering. When I interpret all of it, a through line of powerful feminine energy comes through. How do you relate to and embody feminine or yin-like energy?
Thank you. That’s always been natural, or effortless to me. When I create I enter the no-mind space. I work with my hands, I listen with my heart, and I trust that there is something bigger than myself driving this life. I get out of the way. When we surrender, we are able to soften, and I think that, as women, we’ve been hardened by living in patriarchal society that it’s become challenging to listen to our intuition and simply play. Playfulness is the key to embodying the feminine. I tell myself - whatever you do let it turn into art - and that’s how I live my life.
What is something you would like to share with those embarking on the path of motherhood? What would you recommend in preparation for the fourth trimester?
Take the time to plan your postpartum, and not the planning the world says you need. You don’t need hundreds of baby products, what you need is a sacred space where you and your baby will be close and cozy. A place filled with love, warmth, and light. What you need to plan is your nourishment. Warm stews, and soups, and organic juices, vitamins, herbal infusions, and long floral baths. Massages, acupuncture, skin-care rituals, sunshine, and laughter. Walks in nature, and a support system of women by your side. You can’t fully be prepared for what’s to come. You’ll be broken open in the most magical way, but you can create an environment for your and your baby’s metamorphosis to take place in a sacred and intentional way.
Thank you so much for all of your insight and for the work that you’re sharing. I like to end on this note. On your perfect vision-board of the world, what does the postpartum experience look like for modern mothers?
A birthing / meditation / zen garden / orchard / art space, made entirely out of glass. Intentionally built upon a mountain, overlooking the ocean. The sounds of dolphins and healing ambient music permeates the space, the joy of birth is felt; cries and laughter filling the atmosphere with euphoria. Inspiring, birth / body positive, feminine art and colors are everywhere. Each mother births the way she decides and is supported by doulas, massage therapists, personal chefs, educators. She is bathed, massaged, and fed as she sees fit with only the healthiest options for her and her baby. She is educated about anatomy, her cycles, her changes, and is guided through the breastfeeding journey and fully held through it. In this healing birth space, she is supported, empowered, and guided to experience the bliss of birth and motherhood. She is peaceful and trusts her body’s wisdom. After a few weeks of care, she and all the women who gave birth are together initiated into mothers by elder, wise, crone, medicine women. They sing, and laugh, and circle in sisterhood and are ready to rejoin the world. It’s all free, because we now live in a matriarchal society, where women lead with grace, honesty, reciprocity, and their hearts - and money is a thing of the past.
All photography & art by Vanja Vukelic.