Weronika Kolinska is a vegan artist who specialises in designing T-shirts. Weronika talks about how to give a voice to the voiceless: activism, art, self-care, and more!
Weronika, how do you define yourself?
I like to think of myself as an artist first. I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid, I went to art school when I was a teen, creating art is my job now. Since art is such a big part of my life, I naturally incorporate other things that are important to me into my creations. I draw mainly animals and I like to express my love for nature, the beauty of animals, their individuality. A big portion of my work has an animal rights or environmental theme and I consider that being art activism.
I have moved a lot in the last few years, from Poland to Hungary, and later to the Netherlands. It was hard for me to to get into local activist groups. When I lived in Poland I was doing street activism on a regular basis and I was a member of Otwarte Klatki, an amazing animal rights organisation. So, I do have a history of activism, but I’m focusing on art now. I still attend protests or marches once in a while.
Drawing: Weronika Kolinska. Mother nature.
What were your reasons for going vegan?
I first went vegetarian after reading a preface to a vegetarian cookbook listing reasons to stop eating meat. Somehow all that information convinced me then and there, although I knew all those reasons well, because my partner was a vegetarian when we met. Soon after that, I started reading books about animal rights and I learnt things I had no idea about. I discussed all of that with my partner and our only conclusion was to go vegan. We realised there is no way to keep consuming dairy products and eggs without exploiting animals and contributing to the animal industry and its’ cruel practices.
I guess my life didn’t change that much. I did meet a lot of amazing and passionate people as I got more into activism and I got more excited about food than ever! I love that frenzy when a new vegan item is introduced or a restaurant opens and every vegan runs to try it. And on a more serious note, I guess, I finally have that piece of mind that I’m not directly contributing to the suffering of animals. I’ve always considered myself an animal lover and now I know my actions reflect my ideas.
Collecting signatures on a petition to ban fur farms in Poland.
Photo (right): Tatiana Adonis (radio PiK). Street activism with Otwarte Klatki.
What does animal rights mean to you?
It’s a hard question, cause it’s hard for me to express big ideas through words, but I try my best. Animal rights mean something I think we all already believe in, but we live in a world that forces us to go against that. We all know, just from observing and interacting with animals that they feel pain, they have feelings, they are intelligent. Most of us have or had a companion animal at some point in our lives whom we (have) love(d). The concept of animal rights expresses what is a logical conclusion to our observations – animals are sentient and it’s wrong to inflict suffering on them. Once we embrace animal rights we finally align our actions with our moral beliefs.
What non-human persons can teach us?
It’s a hard questions cause animals are so diverse, there are so many species with different behaviours, skills, rituals. So, it’s tough for me to look at them as one group. But at the top of my head I think they can teach us to appreciate the little things and to allow ourselves to be playful, no matter of the age.
How did you become a visual artist?
As I mentioned, I’ve been drawing all my life. Now I mainly design T-shirts, and it’s something I got into about 10 years ago. I had a lot of friends in music bands and I made designs for them. When I went vegan and started creating artworks relating to animal rights, I was very lucky because I was approached by the Compassion Company, an amazing vegan brand from the US. I made my first design for them in 2015 and somehow it took off from there.
You are the co-founder of the MENIMA. What were your reasons being co-establishing the brand?
MENIMA is a clothing brand based in Poland, meant to spread the vegan and animal rights message. The idea came from my cousin who is a long-time vegan. He really liked my artworks and wanted to start a passion project. We wanted to create something that was missing in Poland – a vegan themed brand that offers clothing with unique, hand illustrated designs with the focus on animals. I’m responsible for the design and branding part of MENIMA, and he handles all the rest, i.e. social media, shipping and handling, packaging. He tries to improve our brand constantly, he makes sure the clothing we print on is ethically made, the printing shop we use is based in Poland (and, fun fact, also run by a vegan!), and a few months ago he switched our packaging to plastic free. We also donate a part of our profits to Otwarte Klatki.
You have said: “Designing T-shirts for vegan brands was, and continues to be, especially rewarding for me, as T-shirts are wearable art that gets noticed by a great deal of people and is a terrific conversation starter.” What kind of conversations have you personally started with your T-shirts and/or with the T-shirts you have worn?
Usually, when people react to my T-shirts, they ask if I’m vegan – it’s a great way to answer any of their questions and to bust some stereotypes. While talking about veganism, I try to speak from my own experience and I avoid calling people out or telling them what they should do, as that often results in hostility and defensiveness.
I hope people who wear my shirts feel proud and empowered, and I hope the people who see them think about the depicted animals as beings and not products. Once an older man after looking at my Love-All-Animals-shirt said “Aww, even that pig looks beautiful”. That shows how ingrained are the images of farm animals, especially pigs, dirty and without character. I try to draw my animals partially stylised to enhance the positive emotions on their faces, but also as realistic as possible, in order to make them look real at the same time. I avoid the cartoonish depictions that are too detached from reality – even the animal industry uses cute, cartoonish animals on their products.
What are the main ways designers (and other visual artists) can contribute to social impact?
We can create moving artworks with a message. There are countless ways to do that: comics, oil paintings, murals, apparel design or even memes!
Drawings: Weronika Kolinska.
Portrait of Jacobje from Ex Legkipjes (left) and Handsome Hardie Hollytwinkle, Enchanted Farm Sanctuary (right).
Can you name the best methods of nonviolent struggle?
My favorite forms of activism include street activism – outreach in public spaces and internet activism. It’s always great to talk with people one-on-one, because it’s personal and dispells the angry vegan stereotype. Showing footage or asking people to sign a petition are wonderful ways to do that.
I’m not a fan of direct action movement. I think shouting about meat being a murder to people eating at a restaurant results in a lot of hostility and the people we want to reach are becoming even more separated from us and our ideas.
Internet activism, on the other hand, is a great tool in pressuring businesses to change their ways. There are multiple groups on Facebook which create organised campaigns and by writing to businesses in large numbers, it creates pressure to reach the goal. It’s amazing how we can change what businesses offer with a little effort, gradually eliminating the cruellest products and increasing the amount of vegan products. We can influence on what non-vegan people can buy, and support and improve the lives of animals at the same time. As we make availability of vegan products greater, we make it easier for people to go vegan or reduce their consumption of animal products.
Drawings: Weronika Kolinska. Birds of the winderness (left). Snake amongst fungi (right).
Animal activists are vulnerable to stress effects. Can you share some self-care tips?
I can only share what works for me personally, and that is not watching slaughterhouse footage. I’ve watched a lot of it when I first went vegan and I don’t think that watching more is helping in any way. I already don’t contribute to it, I’m already very sensitive to the suffering of animals, and me seeing it doesn’t help the animals in any way. I think it’s a great tool for informing people about what goes on on farms and it can make people feel empathy towards the animals, but I don’t think we should torture ourselves with it once we’re aware and we already acted upon it. So, don’t feel bad about unfollowing some of your friends or activists who share a lot of gory images. If that’s something that makes you feel overwhelmed and helpless, stop looking at it and remember you’re already doing your part! Try to find other productive ways to get motivated.
Design: Weronika Kolinska. Design for Cotton Branch Farm Animal Sanctuary.
Tobias Leenaert, a long-time speaker, trainer and strategist, and the author of How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach (Lantern Press, 2017) has said: “In this world where there is so much suffering, it’s hard to do enough. Doing your best is maybe never really your best, because you can always do better. We can spend more money on good causes, and watch less Netflix, and help more.” Can you say something about that?
I think it is true, we can always do more. It’s great to strive for more and find new ways to help. We can donate money to charities, we can attend organised events or protests, join activist groups, we can engage in internet activism. There are so many ways to do good, everyone can find something they feel comfortable doing. That being said, we should find a balance and be mindful. Sometimes, if we jump into something too deep we can become overwhelmed or get burned out. Let’s try our best, but also stop and think and pat ourselves on the back from time to time.
Design: Weronika Kolinska. Liberation is Love for Compassion Company.
What vegans, creative activists, graphic designers, animal activists, etc would you say have influenced you the most, and why?
It’s funny that you quoted Tobias Leenaert cause I really love his methods! I have seen him speaking two times and it was very inspiring. I love the approach based on science, on what actually has been proven to work, and always being kind to people. Another person that impacted my way of thinking about activism was Dobrosława Gogłoza, the founder of Otwarte Klatki. She was the one who introduced me to Tobias’ work. She has amazing knowledge about strategies in activism. I signed up for a local group of Otwarte Klatki soon after they formed, and went to her presentation about the organisation’s principles and strategies. I learned so much and it completely changed what I thought about changing people’s minds.
What’s next up for you?
I painted my first mural in a vegan concept store in Rotterdam called Plantastic! Health Hub in December, and I hope I can do more projects like this! Also, I’m happy to continue doing what I’m doing. I’m not a person who plans long ahead.
Drawings: Weronika Kolinska.
Portrait of Adriano from Farm Sanctuary (left) and Lola from Wildwood Farm Sanctuary (right).
Etsy (online shop): https://www.etsy.com/shop/WKolinskaArtworks
MENIMA (online shop): http://menimabrand.com/