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Amaia Moran From neighbourhood activism to anthropologically-inspired design

Barcelona-based artist Amaia Moran provides creative design for public institutions and cooperatives committed to social change. 

I first saw Amaia Moran drawing on her pad in the co-working space of the Ateneu del Raval, a communitarian cultural centre in Barcelona where neighbours organise events on migrants' issues and feminism and celebrate queer community. That same day I happened to meet her in the El Diluvio Universal art gallery, where she told me she only works for cultural projects and socially important causes.

Intrigued by this, I wanted to learn more about this and the sources of inspiration for her very original artwork, in which she plays with universal visual symbols, folklore and humans' relationship to nature.


Amaia, your art decorated the streets of Barcelona with the campaign Enfortim l’Economia Social i Solidària (in Catalan: “We strengthen the Social and Solidarity Economy”) and it was present in public spaces in the Balearic Islands with the campaign to implement the law on wellbeing for present and future generations. You seem to represent someone who I’d call an 'engaged artist'. I remember you said this was your intention. How did that start and what was your motivation?

My social commitment is something that has been instilled at home since I was a child. Both my family and my closest environment have always been very committed to social causes. I think that this interest has taken different forms in my life, mainly through activism within feminist assemblies that worked in the neighbourhood or through neighbourhood organisation.

It took me several years to understand how I could link my two great interests: communication and social commitment. When I was about 23 years old, I did my first campaign in Barcelona called 'Women's Boat to Gaza'. After that, I started to collaborate with La Directa on a regular basis. From then on, my social projects started to come, little by little.

Could you tell us a bit more about La Directa, and explain your creative process for making illustrations and graphic design for them?

La Directa is an alternative newspaper in Catalan that opts for a free and honest press. They write about current affairs, conduct research and analyse, and start important debates. Our vocation is to contribute to social transformation. We report and visualise abuses and injustices and promote alternatives.

Its potential lies in the fact that it has a wide network of collaborators that make the project possible. Currently, I collaborate as a designer and illustrator while working on my own projects. The pace of work is quite hectic, as in any newsroom. The assignments have a very short deadline and therefore the challenge is usually to illustrate very complex topics in a very short time.

It's a bit stressful but I think that, as an illustrator, this way of working has helped me a lot, because it forces you to make decisions very quickly.


What other social projects were important for you, which you feel especially proud about participating in?

I really liked working with El Ateneu de Nou Barris [the cultural centre of a historically marginalised, working-class neighbourhood in Barcelona], both because of the project and the space itself. El Ateneu De Nou Barris does a spectacular job in Barcelona bringing accessible and quality culture to such a working-class neighborhood as Nou Barris.

In this project I worked with Brou Gràfic. The challenge we set ourselves was to create a custom typography for the space. The truth is that it was crazy, since we threw ourselves into doing something we didn't have much control over. I'm happy with the result but above all that I have collaborated with this special space in Barcelona.

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Your art is figurative, abstract, modern and traditional, almost tribal. You don’t use perspective a lot – you remind us about the first drawings of humans, like those in Lascaux, and make this simple style more cute and colourful. That's a very original cocktail. How did you develop your own 'school'? What were the pieces you put together and the journey that brought you to where you are?

This is something that is often repeated to me and it makes me laugh because sometimes it's difficult to see with perspective what one creates.

When I was little and someone asked me what I would like to be when I grew up, I always answered the same thing: archaeologist. Over the years I have understood that what I meant was anthropologist. Life has taken me on other paths but I think anthropology has been my true love. I think that drawing has been the way I have found to get closer to that.

Although I think my references are very diverse. All those imaginary things you mention have always been very present. Human beings and how they relate to the natural environment, fables as a world where reality and fiction intermingle, and universal visual symbols and folklore are some of the things that continue to excite me.

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Two pieces of your art – the person with their thoughts in two versions and the dog with heads inside are especially striking to me. What are they about?

The person with the thoughts came out at a time in my life when I was overwhelmed and needed to escape. Somehow, without knowing it, I guess I represented myself.

The one with the wolf, however, I made it thinking of telling a little fable where it would be possible for the characters to stay alive inside the animal and to imagine how to escape. In the end, I never finished this story and only published one image.

At the moment I'm reading 'When I Sing The Mountain Dances' by Irené Solà, and I saw your picture related to it. What’s the relation between you and this book?

I especially like Irene Solà's writing because it takes me to an almost tribal imaginary, where the limits of reality are blurred in a wonderful way. It is one of my favourite books because it connects me fully to nature. How does a cloud feel when it feels like raining?


In the coworking space I saw you drawing on your pad, but from what I can see you also paint a lot with watercolor, you prepare designs for scarves or blankets. What else do you do, and with what kind of materials?

When I work on my own projects, I always try to do it by hand to get away from the computer. For me, digitising is a way to order and prepare the final work.

I draw a lot in my free time. I love to do it at the beach, in the afternoon with my friends, on the train. The material I feel most comfortable with is gouache. It's similar to watercolour but with much more consistency. I love how easy it is to use and transport, and the vivid results it allows me to achieve.

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You created a cooperative of illustrators. What are your aims and how did that happen? What are you looking at as a collective for the future?

During the pandemic we created the Brou collective, four friends from Barcelona. We had known each other for years and had always talked about setting up something together.

The idea was to create a collective to work on social projects, providing careful and quality design. We are very happy with the projects we have done and we are still getting offers, but given the amount of work we have had these last two years, we had to slow down a bit. In the future, I would love to be able to continue collaborating, just for the pleasure of doing things well and collectively.

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