As the world continues to culturally evolve and societies begin to reckon with historic implicit biases, the phrase “Representation Matters” has become a common battle cry amongst groups that have often been left out of the mainstream. It’s a notion to create more space for stories of people from underrepresented races, ethnicities, genders and religious backgrounds, so they may see themselves more often in movies, books, television and other media.
Mei-Li Wu ’14 was a Graphic Design major while at Moore and has recently used her drawing skills to become the sole illustrator of a book that exemplifies the idea of representation. She currently lives in her home country of Sweden, which she claims has its own struggles with diversity. The book Fina Jag (Beautiful Me in English), breaks through barriers by featuring a young Black girl who uses short, confident phrases to encourage herself throughout her day. Wu describes it as “a book about loving yourself with the help of positive affirmations.”
Fina Jag is written by Swedish author Ilham Orianwo. She and her husband have three children, and after moving their family from London to Sweden, they had a hard time finding books that featured Black characters. So, she took it upon herself to create what was not available. Fina Jag is inspired by Orianwo’s daughter and the positive affirmations they have practiced since she was two years old. Orianwo hopes the book inspires parents to encourage their children with affirmations like the ones featured in Fina Jag, helping children build positive self-worth.
Wu and Orianwo had been friends for some time when the book idea first came along, and they began working on the illustrations in the summer of 2021. Wu used the drawing and illustration techniques that she learned from her studies at Moore, as well as her professional experiences thereafter, to bring it all to fruition. Wu created all of the illustrations in Fina Jag and designed the book layout.
When Orianwo’s daughter first saw the images of the main character, her excitement was palpable. Wu claims that the child shouted “It’s me!” as she was so proud to see herself represented, afro puffs and all. The community response to the book has also been very positive. Wu says, “So many other people have told us that when their daughters read it, they shout ‘Wow! She looks like me!’”
A similar story recently went viral, when a two-year-old from New York City was watching the new movie Disney, Encanto, and saw a character whose resemblance to him was uncanny. Both experiences demonstrate that when young children see characters who look like them on the pages of a book or in their favorite movies, a sense of pride and hope is instilled that cannot be measured.
Wu reiterates the importance of images like these. “This is not just for the sake of representation,” she says. “It’s also for white children, Asian children, and kids of other cultures, to get used to seeing Black and Brown children represented and for all to understand that the world isn’t just white out there.”
Fina Jag was a passion project for Wu and she is so grateful to be a part of its success. She currently works as a graphic designer and although she loves her current job and freelance design work, illustration has opened another avenue of creativity for her. “It’s so, so fulfilling and it makes me so happy,” Wu says. “I need more stuff where I really impress myself. There’s no better feeling than when you say ‘Oh, I did that!’” She attributes her success and confidence in new endeavors to her time at Moore. “Everyone has doubts, and if you’re a perfectionist, they often feel extra heavy,” she says.
“But I’ve learned that I’m good enough. I went to Moore! I have the knowledge I need to do this work.”
Fina Jag is currently available in Sweden, and Wu and Orianwo hope to one day translate it into English and make it available worldwide. Images and updates can be found on their Instagram page @aliouate_publications.