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Aïcha Wijland: Art, Ads & Authenticity

Born in the Netherlands, raised in NZ and now one of Australia’s best art directors. Aïcha Wijland (pronounced Ah-ee-sha, like the song) can draw, animate and come up with kickass ideas to solve any creative challenge. Mavens spoke to Aïcha about ads, feminism and her most recent collaboration for CHE Proximity ‘Give A Flybuys’.

You started out as a ballet teacher. Why the change of career?

To be completely honest, I just put that one in my resume to make it look like I have more work experience before I got my current job, haha. Some people had hospitality as their first job, I taught ballet to 5 year olds.

Realistically, it was always going to be a creative career for me, but I didn’t always know it was going to be advertising. I wanted to be an animator. Dunedin has a great music scene for such a little place, so I started making music videos for local bands while I was at art school. But I quickly realised if I wanted to do bigger things I had to move.

So, when I graduated I ended up here (Melbourne) and worked as a freelance animator/illustrator before falling into advertising through Award School. I realised that, ultimately, the scope for creative work is much bigger in ads – the platform and talented people you’re able to surround yourself with makes for some awesome opportunities.

Mavens is obsessed with ‘Give A Flybuys’, the campaign you recently worked on via CHE Proximity. Especially your character development, which we feel sets a positive example for diversity in ads. Can you tell us more about the project? What parts of the process did you enjoy the most?

Thank you! It’s one of the only projects I’ve ever worked on (ads or art) where I think the initial creative intention actually persisted through to the end. So rewarding! It also felt like a bit of a full-circle moment, with it being a music video.

When it comes to diversity I think most of us in advertising think we’re pretty aware and conscious when it comes to casting. But we also live in our own bubble of adland-diversity that sometimes becomes a little box-tick-y (let alone the fact that the industry itself isn’t that diverse).

We had to actively keep checking ourselves at every stage, from early scripts (and scamps!) all the way to production – do the roles feel like stereotypes, and then, does the talent feel ‘expected’ for the role?

It was also something our director Sanjay De Silva was super passionate about, and a big part of the reason we chose him. It wasn’t just about creating a cast that represented wide demographics. We also wanted to show characters you might not usually see in ads.

Character sketches for 'Give A Flybuys'.

@thesexistentialist is your Instagram comic with copywriter Lauren Eddy. Which is seriously funny and feminist, and we love it! Tell us how it came about?

It actually started with a condom brief at work. We pitched this idea that was about emotionally safe sex, on top of, ya know – actual safe sex. The mental complexities of sexual relationships aren’t really taught in sex-ed classes and it’s still a really hard thing (ha!) – even for adults to talk about.

The idea didn’t get up. But we loved it enough to make it into our own side hustle, The Sexistentialists. The responses we’ve had are great, because sometimes people aren’t brave enough to bring up topics on their own, but they will tag their friend or partner in a funny Instagram post. We’ve got many exciting plans for where to take it in the future!

You worked with Lumber Fly on a Sesame St short, “Cloud 9”. Can you tell us about the collaboration and your part in the project?

It was actually the first job I did when I came to Melbourne. I was an unpaid intern at Oh Yeah Wow where I met Henry Bullen before Lumberfly was Lumberfly. I was basically desperate to get on any project I could get my hands on and I got to do the concept art for this Sesame Street pitch. We weren’t really sure they’d buy it, I just thought it was super cool it was happening at all! Then a couple months after I got a job elsewhere, I found out they bought and made it! So that turned out to be a pretty cool first gig.

Both your personal and professional work has distinct feminist undertones. How much power do you think we have (as advertisers) to influence an equal future?

It’s often easy to forget how much influence we have. There’s a lot of talk about the bad that advertising has on the world, but it’s actually in our power to make sure that influence is positive wherever we can, even if it’s small.

Of course, if you’re lucky it could be some massive campaign that rocks the world, but even in everyday work you can affect the way concepts and people are represented.

This is just one basic example, but every time I write a retouching brief I feel pretty empowered that I get to direct what is (or rather, what isn’t) done.

Lastly, your website is awesome. What tips do you have for other creatives when it comes to showcasing their work?

I can’t take credit for this advice because it’s all things others have told me, but:

  • Always keep it up to date. You never know when people are looking, and you never know where the next opportunity is going to come from.

  • Make sure the work you’re showcasing is actually the kind of work you’d want people to come asking you for.

  • If the type of work that you want to make isn’t in your folio, go make it on your own so they know you can do it.

Thanks so much for the interview, Mavens is such a cool initiative and I’m honoured to be a part of it!

If you’re up for more tantalising stigma-slaying, follow The Sexistentialists on Instagram here.


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