Graphic designer, illustrator and hand letterer, Muhahalicia, cries. A lot. “I recently did the 16 personalities test and discovered that I’m a Campaigner”, she says , “which is only like 7% of the global population and we are empathetic AF.” Apparently it explains a lot. “I used to cry a lot as a kid about not being able to fix the world… As an adult, I’ve managed to get it into my head that I can’t feed everyone and fix everything. Now, when I cry about something, I try to make it better in some way. Mostly with art and design”.
The artist, otherwise known as Alicia Van Zyl, first featured on Three Magazine for her corona commissions initiative. “I actually don’t think I even realised that Koos [Groenewald] was doing the corona commissions till after I started but when his slots were so full that he couldn’t take on anymore, I was happy to join his open invitation for other artists to participate”. The initiative encouraged artists to help out by teaming up with an organization providing aid during the pandemic. For a campaigner such as Muhahalicia it was a natural decision: “It was heartwarming AF to see how many artists joined in and how many people supported the charities.” She began creating portraits in exchange for donations to SA Harvest.
But Muhahalicia is no stranger to combining the power of art with a worthy cause. The GBV protests last September inspired more than tears, it also inspired her to begin her ongoing project : Free Protest Art. The idea is that “artists can upload protest art and people can download it for free, print it out, take it to protests or paste it on walls in their neighbourhoods or even make merch out of it to raise funds for charities and petitions”.
“Who doesn’t like a good boob pun?”
With all the talk of crying, fixing the world and protesting you might assume she’s quite a serious person. But with a bio that reads “Boobs, Bums, Bush & Puns” it’s pretty clear that Muhahalicia isn’t in any danger of taking herself, her art or life in general too seriously. “Who doesn’t like a good boob pun?” she lols. “My dad probably wouldn’t be very impressed with my Instagram profile, sorry dad!”
“What’s that saying about the best art coming out of the most difficult times?”
She’s very aware of humour’s ability to uplift and make a positive impact. “I think the world can be a very serious place and making someone chuckle or roll their eyes for a second also helps to make it a little easier to handle.” Muhahalicia’s art is fun, sometimes with intent but other times gloriously not. “As for the innuendos, dirty jokes and ass drawings: I just can’t help it. I’m a dirty, dirty girl! Maybe it’s a way to balance out all the crying? Hahaha!”
Making the world a lighter place through her art is “the why behind everything I do, she says. “Plus boobs. Because: fun”.
The above means she was an obvious choice to collaborate on the cover and issue art for our PO.A (Plan of Action) issue. “I love that the theme is ‘plan of action’.” She voices the intent behind the issue perfectly by saying “It gives a sense of control and hope to this whole shitty situation rather than it staying a thing that’s happening to us forever (okay I know it’s not really forever, but it kinda feels like it right now)”.
A Powerful Pose
So what was the inspiration behind her exclusive cover art? “I took what has quickly become the symbol of this pandemic- the mask- and explored making it the obstacle to overcome in a bunch of scenarios. Is it a wall with a ladder? Is it a stairway to the outside? Is it a river for us to cross? Or is it a pool that we’re floating in?“
“In the end, I decided that the idea of hurdles worked the best for a couple of reasons; it’s a very active leap over the hurdle, a deliberate effort, a powerful pose. There’s no floating aimlessly in a pool. There’s not just one river to cross, but many hurdles to jump.”
“The woman is naked except for the socks she’s wearing because, let’s be honest, that’s pretty much the quarantine mood right now. I also decided not to give her a mouth or any distinguishing features on the nose because that’s a part of the body we’re not seeing when we’re outside anymore. You don’t see someone’s laughter or frustration on the street or in the store, so we don’t see the jumper’s effort in this image either.”
Capturing a Feeling
Muhahalicia’s M.O might be empathetic AF but don’t mistake that for weakness. She’s a master of wiping off the tears and tackling the issue at hand if her answer to my following question is anything to go by. What cultural function do you hope to see art playing in regards to COVID-19? She replies with her own: “What’s that saying about the best art coming out of the most difficult times?”
“Art will have documented not just the facts and figures [but] how we felt”.
“I’ve definitely come across some of the most incredible music, writing, sculptures, art and experiments during these rough-as-balls times… Everyone’s channelling their energy into their art. It’s a way to process emotions, a way to feel useful while you’re stuck at home, to help. [It’s] a way to cope”.
Art plays an integral role during the current crisis by documenting this period in time, creating unity through shared feelings and, ofcourse, determining how we frame and navigate our present. Muhahalicia agrees. “It’s created a sense of togetherness even though we’re all so isolated. It’s also brought some joy into our currently quite bleak lives. It’s important now, but I also think it will be important when we look back, years from now. Art will have documented not just the facts and figures the way the news does, but it will have documented how we felt”.
Besides her Free Protest Art and Corona Cards projects I ask her what’s next. ” I’m actually collaborating with a writer in NY on a new project”, she shares, “but that’s still veeeery early days so there’s nothing to share there yet. Except that I can’t stop.” The last sentence I feel is a great summary of this artist’s energy.
Muhahalicia’s on a mission to change the world; one pun, boob, bum and bush at a time. And she can’t stop. It’s the campaigner in her.