The work of London-based artist, illustrator and multidisciplinary creative Ana Curbelo is instantly recognisable thanks to her elegant style and uncompromising attitude. We caught up with her to learn more about her career and how she overturned a sexist German law.
Innovation seems to be at the heart of Ana Curbelo’s work. The Loughborough University graduate’s portfolio is brimming with radical projects for a host of high-profile clients, including the BBC and Microsoft, and she’s already managed to scoop a White Pencil in Impact at D&AD plus a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions.
This ties into the fact that she sees herself as a conceptual illustrator above all else. “My images are not just decorative illustrations but carry an underlying message or concept,” she tells Creative Boom. “I hope to provoke a reaction with my pieces, though I don’t necessarily intend to be provocative.”
Describing her art style as bold, direct and uncompromising, Ana started attracting attention after her university tutors put her work forward at the D&AD New Blood exhibition. “I showcased my final year work, which was the art direction of my university’s student union magazine,” she explains.
“The BBC were looking for graduates and noticed my work, particularly the concept and art direction of my magazine covers, and offered me my first full-time job.”
Hot on the heels of this success, Ana would create a project that generated global headlines: The Tampon Book. Centred around the fact that, in Germany, tampons and sanitary products were then taxed at 19% – whereas products like caviar, champagne and truffles were only taxed at 7% – the stage was set for sexist hypocrisy to be challenged.
“Scholz & Friends, the agency behind The Female Company’s campaign, found a clever loophole to protest this sexist tax by selling tampons hidden inside books, which were also taxed at 7%,” she reveals.
“I was commissioned to fill the book’s pages with illustrations, accompanying short stories and information on their purpose. The book also promoted a petition by Nanna-Josephine Roloff & Yasemin Kotra, urging the German parliament to discuss the abolition of the tampon tax.
“The petition gained enough signatures for debate, and on November 7, 2019, Germany abolished the tampon tax. The campaign went viral and sparked a worldwide conversation, making people aware of similarly discriminatory taxes in their countries.”
The Tampon Book is the sort of game-changing project most creatives can only dream of. And as well as changing German law, it also had a positive impact on Ana’s career. “The project significantly increased my visibility and expanded my audience,” she says.
“It won a ridiculous amount of awards from all the major advertising festivals, including a Cannes Grand Prix and a D&AD White Impact pencil. Many art directors and agencies began to take note of my portfolio, but more importantly, it attracted clients who shared similar values. I also started receiving messages from students studying my illustrations, which was really flattering.”
Speaking of her illustrations, Ana’s work is characterised by true-to-life bodies, not the airbrushed, beyond-recognition people that so often populate the media. For Ana, this was a conscious and important choice.
“I enjoy depicting people in their most authentic and unapologetic forms, breaking taboos and embracing different body types,” she says. “My approach involves pushing for blunt poses and not shying away from depicting the human body in its authentic self.
“I use bold, unfiltered illustrations to create relatable characters, often depicting real, everyday moments. My illustrations use careful line work to convey the desired effect, and my characters are meant to be liberating, pushing boundaries while celebrating authenticity.”