Social justice may be a relatively new term, but social consciousness has long been part of New York artist Luba Lukova’s vocabulary. In today’s world—in this election year—there are many more important issues than design, and they are the topic of Lukova’s art. They are, in her words, “...a mirror of life, not fashion.” The online collective encyclopedia Wikipedia describes social justice as referring (in part) to “…the concept of a society in which justice is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than merely the administration of law.”
Social Justice 2008, 12 Posters by Luba Lukova, the first publication from her publishing imprint, Clay & Gold, is an extension of her career-long focus on issues such as peace, censorship, immigration, ecology, hunger and corruption. “I use the language of design to express a message,” Lukova says. Although she is decidedly uncomfortable with the title “publisher,” Lukova is confident in her ability to distill powerful messages and reach diverse audiences. Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote to congratulate her on being awarded the Grand Prix Savignac’s for the Peace poster. “…on behalf of the United States Senate and the people of California, I commend you for your sharing such a positive message through your work.” And in an eternal statement that surpasses even a letter from a senior stateswoman, a young history major had Lukova’s winning poster—an image of a dove comprised of the materials of war—tattooed on his back.
“This project is my cry for action. We have to change things for the good of the entire world, not only for America,” says Lukova. “I was inspired by the desire for change in our society, by the enormous activity of the people and their will to make a difference.”
She employs accessible metaphors that present well-known issues in a succinct and iconic way, sometimes using humor to present disturbing issues as in the Health Coverage and Brainwashing posters. “They are supposed to make the viewer think and act,” Lukova explains.
Originally from Bulgaria, Lukova came to America in 1991. Since then she has become a U.S. citizen, and her work has won nearly every award that can be bestowed upon an illustrator—although she prefers the designation artist. She hopes to reach both ordinary citizens and politicians with her Social Justice portfolio. The posters are being displayed at several venues this year with upcoming exhibitions at The Art Institute of Boston and Orange Studio in Orlando, Florida.
Lukova is an uncompromising, dedicated artist who lives and breathes the issues she responds to so movingly in her art. Her use of visual metaphors creates timeless, indelible images. Her art chisels away at the dross, the banal and the predictable, to reveal the heart of a subject. Lukova’s illustrations are diamond bright, shining a light for others to follow to their own truth.
Opinionated, charming, serious, yet full of life and laughter, she is a complex woman with the heart of a child. Her message is that of the power of the artist.
CA: What does the term “social justice” mean to you?
Lukova: It means truth, morality, rightness. The cynics will say that all these categories are relative but in our hearts we know that there is right and wrong, truth or lie. Social Justice is about these principles applied to our life as a group of beings.
CA: What is your creative process like? Do you research, sketch...to arrive at a visual metaphor?
Lukova: Of course I research and sketch a lot. Finding the right form for my ideas is a process I love. That is why I printed hundreds of my preliminary sketches on the packaging of Social Justice. I guess this gives an idea how difficult it is to achieve simplicity. Still, when I do posters, my first question is what [do] I say and will it be clear to the viewer?
CA: How did you get the name for your publishing imprint?
Lukova: Well, I read a book about ancient tribes called Thracians who lived thousands of years ago in what is today Bulgaria. They left remarkable examples of pottery and gold work and the forms are always stunningly beautiful, no matter the material used. The author of the book believed the Thracians shared the same philosophy as the people of India and he quoted a Sanskrit text: “To the illumined mind, a clod of clay, a stone and gold are the same.”
I thought this might be true for what I’d like to do with my publications. The beauty and meaning have nothing to do with the expense of the materials, it is the ideas and feelings that bring value. So that is why I called it “Clay & Gold.”
CA: What do you hope to accomplish with this publication?
Lukova: I hope these images can be a catalyst for action. Art can change the world; I believe that. If it weren’t true, there wouldn’t be censorship in this world. Art can be an incendiary device and I know that firsthand. The images in this portfolio address many of the complex issues we face in this election year, but the problems depicted are not only American, they exist in many other places. Here in the U.S. we are blessed with freedom of expression and that is why it was possible for me to publish such a project. But this is not so in many countries around the world. I hope this publication can speak to an international audience as well.
CA: What other types of publications do you have planned?
Lukova: I would like to do a joint project with my favorite Iranian designers based on the poetry of Omar Khayyam. I’ve been always fascinated by their exquisite typography and I thought it would be interesting to blend that with modern imagery. I know it won’t be so easy to realize a publication like this given all the political prejudices, but I hope I’ll be able to handle it.
CA: What places, or causes, would you like to bring attention to?
Lukova: Anything that speaks to the soul, and the mind.
CA: Do you believe all art should serve a message?
Lukova: I don’t know if “serve” is the right term. Art always has a message even if the artist doesn’t intend it. The viewers interpret what they see and that becomes the message. Poster art is a different category where the idea needs to be accessible. The poster truly is the message. But generally speaking, there is no formula for what art should do. Good artists listen to their hearts when creating art. ca