The summer of 2018 did not go as fourth-year artist Uzo Njoku (Col ’19) planned.
After being turned down for several museum internships, she found herself working a desk job.
But Njoku didn’t let that stymie her creativity. Instead, the statistics-turned-studio-art major decided to fulfill a longtime goal of making a coloring book, and she did it in a single month.
She drew nonstop while researching subjects and, crucially, how to publish a book. “I feel like I work the best when I’m under pressure,” she says of her self-imposed deadline.
Funded by preorders, Njoku self- published The Bluestocking Society, named after a women’s intellectual group in 18th-century England, a month later. It’s now sold more than 3,000 copies and is a top seller at UVA’s bookstore.
The Nigeria native—she moved to Virginia at age 7—says she saw a need for a coloring book that showed women of color from the viewpoint of a woman of color—outside the male gaze.
“Most of my work focuses on women of color because that is my experience, that is what I know the best,” Njoku says. “It’s good to create our own story, our own history.”
The Bluestocking Society features short biographies and portraits of inspiring women—some well-known, such as Maya Angelou and Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, and others less so, such as Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos—alongside words of encouragement and drawings of everyday women.
“I wanted to not just have women from different cultures, but different religions and also different walks of life,” she says. Depicting mothers, students and businesswomen, “I was trying to get as much diversity as I can out of femininity.”
For the background of most portraits, Njoku designed intricate patterns inspired by West African Ankara fabrics to “fuse traditional aspects with contemporary women and create that contrast that works together.”
Njoku’s book is sold in bookstores, galleries and museums in New York, Los Angeles and other cities. But she isn’t eager to make a new one yet.
“I need to remember I’m an artist first,” she says, adding that she wants to see where this book goes over time.
But the book has been a boon to her artistic career, paving the way for shows in Charlottesville and increasing traffic to her website.
This spring, Njoku is studying abroad in London, and she plans to participate in UVA’s fifth-year art program next year before applying to both art school and the Fulbright program. Though she doesn’t know exactly what her path is, she says she will continue to create.
“I need to create my own story, coming from the gaze of a woman of color,” she says, and “talk about the things going on right now. This is our era. [I’m] creating it from my perspective.”