As COVID-19 took hold at the beginning of last year, French artist Aurélia Durand, who lives in Copenhagen, Denmark, had—like so many of us—some rare downtime in what had been an increasingly busy schedule.
Durand took the opportunity to "to do something for myself," drawing a series of portraits, live, online, and then auctioning them off to raise money for the Malala Fund, a non-government organization that works to remove barriers to girls' education. The portraits—of Black people of different ages, genders, and backgrounds, rendered with white outlines on black canvas, and bursting with glorious pops of color—are distinctly Durand's style.
"I think when most people look at my work, they find it pretty, and it makes them happy," she says. "On one level, that's what I want—for people to feel good. But I'm also using the colors to communicate what I believe the world should look like. I see my work as a kind of joyful protest."
Durand has brought her bold, energetic style and message of inclusivity to a new campaign for Amazon Web Services (AWS), celebrating the unique experiences of 30 women from a range of backgrounds and raising awareness about the variety of career opportunities available in the technology industry. AWS commissioned Durand to create individual portraits of 30 employees working across its global business to accompany their personal stories and perspectives on working at AWS. The women, based in more than 15 countries, including Australia, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Malaysia, Spain, and the U.S., sent Durand a selection of photos of themselves in different situations. "Although we've never met, I feel close to them now, in a way," says Durand of her subjects. "I can see parts of their personality in how they pose, in their facial expressions. I was curious to know who the people behind the photos were.
"I liked that there was a real mix of women of all ages and all levels, all working in the same company. I saw older, confident women, as well as younger ones, and some who seemed a little shy. I think big businesses often put only their top management forward as the faces of their organization, but it's important to highlight younger people too. They are the future." While the pandemic may have enforced a brief pause, Durand has had little time to herself since those early days of 2020. She was already working with a host of big name brands and had a large and ever-growing following. But when the murder of George Floyd led to a wave of protests across the U.S. and beyond, more and more people began pointing to Durand's work and sharing it as part of the broader conversation. This, in turn, led to Durand being inundated with requests. "It was good for me to develop my network and have more opportunities as an artist," she recalls, "but it was a little overwhelming at the same time." Happily, Durand's workload is now in a slightly more manageable place. Globally recognised, and with her star still very much on the rise, she continues to experiment with a range of formats, from animation and augmented reality to more traditional media, such as paint.
"I started my career as an illustrator because I had something to say," she says. "I like experimenting with contrasting colors that aren't supposed to go together. These contrasts are designed to attract your eye but also to show you why it's important to integrate more color, more difference, into your own life."
Dolica Gopisetty, Solutions Architect
Herndon, Virginia, United States
"Outside of my day job, I speak to many girls and women who feel it's tough to find opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), which tend to be male-dominated fields. Taking part in this campaign feels empowering because I get to set an example and share my story. I hope that it resonates with other women and encourages them to step out of their comfort zone and apply to AWS. I was very picky about the pictures I selected because I wanted my identity to show. Being Indian, I wear a dot on my forehead, and I made sure it was visible. I love the portrait because it really resembles me. My favorite thing is that Aurélia added Indian attire, which you couldn't see in the original photos I shared. It really brings out my culture."
Ramat Tejani, AWS GetIT Programme Lead
"I was already a huge fan of Aurélia," says Ramat, who leads the AWS GetIT initiative in the UK, to inspire young people, particularly girls, to consider a career in tech. "I'd met her briefly at an exhibition in London in 2019, so I couldn't believe it when I was asked to take part in this campaign. There's such a vibrancy to her art. It kind of jumps out at you, this strong sense of happiness and community. I'm a Black woman, and I see her work as representative of the kind of person I am: my culture, my music, the colours I am proud to wear. It's totally unapologetic. I find the word unapologetic is misused a lot. For me, it means that whatever space I am in, I will be true to who I am."
Antonia Schulze, Data Scientist
"I particularly like that we aren't using regular photography head shots and instead have chosen to reflect diversity through Aurélia's artwork. It's a perfect choice for this campaign. I made my boyfriend take some pictures of me, as I usually avoid selfies and didn't have many portraits. In the end, I decided to include my Amazon badge picture, which was taken on my very first day at work. I felt it actually represents me better than all the others."
Wendy Kho, Commercial Development Manager
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
"I find it uplifting to see so many amazing women working at AWS, helping our customers and partners, and leaning in on projects that really matter to our local communities. I am so happy to be involved in this global campaign—it's an important and meaningful statement. I will continue to lead and innovate in the space of inclusion and diversity in Malaysia and beyond."
See more of Aurélia Durand’s illustrations of women at AWS,.