Vanja Vukelić was born in the Balkan Peninsula in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in a small mining town called Vares. Vares is nested in the valley of the river Stavnja, and surrounded by the mountains Zvjezda, Perun, Kapija (The Star, Perun, The Gate) and many others. Her childhood was spent in these enchanting landscapes, knowing from birth that was not separate, but a part of, this beautiful Mother Earth. But her childhood was also divided into two very different realities - co-existing with this spiritual reservoir while also living in poverty under a dark cloud, obscured by the deadly claws of war. In her own words: “Both inform me, neither define me.”
Can you tell us more about this dichotomy present in your childhood and how that background of war informed the person you’ve become today and the art you create under the merakilabbe name?
Sheltering from death during my developmental years did, in fact, inspire me to create, sustain, and keep myself safe by traversing the imaginal world. Someone once brought to my attention that WAR read backward is RAW and my connection to Spirit of all life, in essence, is simply that. In one part, I’ve learned that being in my body wasn’t safe, so to escape, I started to create. On the other hand, twenty-five years from then, I have come to see that the Great Spirit protected me and opened the gates to the world of Soul so I could return to my body and ground cosmic visions in service to the world.
Where did your love of drawing come from?
From the love I have for myself. About five years ago, I decided to change my path and live life on my own terms and trust in my power. After years of ceremonial plant inquiry, mediation, and altered states of consciousness, I started to deepen the connection to my sacred sight and, from there, started teaching myself to draw. Neither of my parents come from an art background. My father is an unrealized medicine man who chose to work with light as an electrician at this time, and my mother was an expert in economics, who had dreams of working as a caver, or so-called spelunker and had a fascination with the depths and darkness of caves. I’ve come to see that I’m honoring both of their un-lived realities of working with shadows and light in a way that is authentic to me through creating art.
Your art seems to often embody a "transformation" or metamorphosis of some sorts, do they?
Yes. My creations are based on subjective perceptions that are paradoxically woven within the fabric of the collective. As a Scorpio Rising, with five planetary placements in Scorpio, my life is centered around alchemical transmutation and inner explorations of the beyond state. Every time I arrive at a comfortable place in my life, I have a burning need to do a 180 on my path and move beyond all definitions I have of myself. I try to express this connection with the spirit world via symbolic iconography that communicates movement and growth.
You beautifully marry the coexistence of humans and nature, is that a central theme for you?
Thank you. The focus of my work is to express what I see and how I understand the world. For when I look at a simple leaf, I see myself and the entire universe within. I strive to illustrate our true nature, which I see as the interconnectedness with all life. I believe that this can inspire folks to remember their cosmic heritage so that together we can make a difference in the world by radical self acceptance and stewarding the Earth with our full presence. The transfiguration I strive to depict is one told from nature’s perspective, inviting the viewer to see The Earth as a sentient living being by giving it human characteristics. I feel this helps others identify with Earth’s consciousness and allows for remembrance of the lost parts of the self.
What are some of your favorite narratives within planetary healing you like to express through your art?
Integration of the shadow self, birth + decay, magical realism, surrealism, spiritual teachings, equality, unity, pleasure, sensuality, sexuality, divinity, alchemy, the evolution of consciousness, dreams, mysticism, and embodiment of each through storytelling and divination.
You have a unique perspective to your surrealism. How do you begin and finish your process?
I feel and think in visions, and so naturally, I will see images in my mind’s eye, most often in dreams, in meditation, or when I’m in nature. Indeed, visions seem to come from ‘nowhere,’ but I’ve done this work for some time now to know that nothing in life happens at random. And this ‘nowhere’ is a cosmic storehouse thriving with healing, inspiration, and soul-filled visions that wants to communicate with us all the time. I’ve also learned to never force my creativity because creative energy is not something you can demand to perform. Forcing my mind and heart means that I choose to exploit my physical and spiritual body, and to me, that means living out of my integrity. I wait until the vision and energy is available to me and always write it down. I then sit with the image and listen to what it is asking of me at that moment, and when I’m clear, I sit in a ritual and create. One of the most essential parts of creating is stepping out of the way and settling into receiving mode. My visions are alive; they have their own characteristics and memories that I may not understand at times, but they choose me to bring them to life, and honoring them is my way of giving back. Once the preliminary sketch is done by hand, I complete it in ink and finesse digitally.
You offer your art under the name of Merakilabbe - what does that mean?
Priestess of Creativity
Do you recall when you got your first transmission and was able to translate it into art?
Five years ago, during a 5 hour Vipassana sit, I noticed a sacred mandala in the periphery of my vision and fell completely in love. I didn’t know how I was going to create it but I knew I must. The very next day I started diving deep into sacred geometry studies, bought paper and pens and created my first tiny mandala. My life was never the same since. I have seen my center beyond my ego-self. Things come to me in life almost spontaneously, and always synchronistically, continually inviting me to investigate the reality and the self. It’s how I learn. I don’t learn and then do. I do and then learn.
You recently designed a bandana for us - can you describe the narrative and meaning behind that design?
Beings resting in reciprocity and heartfelt connection while held in the magical gateways of fertile and all-encompassing multi-dimensions.
What do the key elements in your art represent for you - the sun? the moon? the stars? the snake? the flower?
The Sun, to me, is an esoteric representation of the universal solar deity. Fires of Creation. Conscious illumination. Highest of alchemical symbols; gold. Awareness. Fertility, life energy, and so much more.
The Moon is my body. My wild feminine self. My shadow self. The mystery and all that is contained within. The rhythm of time. Eternity. Enlightenment of the dark side. Galactic Womb Portal. My muse, my teacher, my ally. My Celtic ancestors worshipped Arianrhod, the Celtic Goddess of the Moon, the Stars, and the Sky, and so the Moon magic is flowing deep within my bloodlines.
The Stars are my ancestors. My inner compass. Symbols of Spirit, truth, and divine protection. Even when I forget, they remind me of who I am. They represent boundaries. Occult and ceremonial magic.
The Snake is my kindred Spirit. Continually shedding and returning to Source energy. I dream of snakes, I create with serpent essence and wisdom that is woven in my DNA. She is a reincarnation of the grandmother that is connected to agriculture, fertility, continual renewal of life, rebirth, eternity, and creative life-force.
The Flower brings me the necessary softness, silkiness, and grace to my dark shadowy serpent self.
Who are some of your inspirations?
Joan Miro. Jiddu Krishnamurti. Emma Kunz. Hilma Af Klint. Carl Jung. Bill Hicks. Vija Celmins. Mooji. Georgia O’Keeffe. Lauryn Hill. Madame Blavatsky. Richard Rudd. Paul Klee. Billie Holiday. Bjork..and so many amazing creators, artists, and friends that are too many to name.
What is a typical day in your life? Do you have a ritual of self-care?
In December 2019, I decided to let go of my home, studio, and all my belongings and am currently on an intuitive home-free path that took me to Northern California, where I’ve been living the last four months. Each morning I rise with the birds and chant, or listen to medicine songs. I nourish my mind and body with a superpower adaptogen smoothie, then head into the mountains anywhere between 2-5 hours each day to simply be, to receive nature’s gifts, give back, and record my experiences via favorite rituals of all - Sacred Journaling. Walking barefoot upon the Earth is my ritual and a silent prayer. This is where I connect, where I bless the world, myself, and the land, it’s a sanctuary which grounds and centers me in my truth, and it’s from this pure state of being that I’m able to show up and do my work. Other rituals include candle magic, cleaning and blessings home spaces, altar activation, dream journaling, and earth offerings.
How do you Honor Mother Earth?
By trusting myself and honoring my heart. By restoring human-earth relations through my one on one healing sessions, and by creating with my hands. By bringing my full presence to Earth, by giving back to communities, and partnering with nonprofits to restore eco-consciousness, the wellbeing of the soil, and defend the rights of indigenous peoples of the Amazon, the lungs of our Earth. I genuinely feel that one of the simplest and most profound ways of honoring the Earth is to share time with her because when we develop friendship and bonds with the natural world, we can reclaim our wholeness and make courageous actions for the well being of all.