Ola Volo Uses Large-Scale Murals to Give Women a Louder Voice

The artist explains how she made it happen

Ishani Nath
Ola Volo
(Photo: Nelson Mouëllic)

Name: Ola Volo

Job title: Visual artist (and designer of our How I Made It 2019 banner!)

Age: 30

From: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Vancouver

Currently lives in: Montreal

Education: BFA, Emily Carr University, with a study-abroad term at Willem de Kooning Academy, where she studied illustration

First job out of school: Brand coordinator for an alcohol company

Artist Ola Volo was flying from Toronto back home to Montreal when she saw it. Looking out the plane’s window, there was the 1,500-square-foot mural she had painted in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood—the largest Canadian mural ever done by a woman.

“It just shook me,” recalls Volo, who was commissioned by the Le Cartel art group for the project. “That was the moment where it was like ‘You made your voice very clear,’ because it’s so big that you can see it from a damn plane.” Literally taking up that space is particularly important for Volo because street art has traditionally been male-dominated. “We need to support women and give them opportunities to paint these large pieces and have their voices be so big that they take over a huge building so you have no choice but to react to the artwork, to notice it and think something about it, good, bad, whatever,” she says. “That’s the power large pieces of art have.”

With her artistic voice and work, Volo aims to impart a message of unity. Growing up in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Volo was surrounded by multiple languages and cultures. As a result, the world she’s created with her art is largely inspired by that multiculturalism and folklore. With her signature style appearing on everything from giant murals to smart cars and a custom Louis Vuitton collection, Volo wanted to create work that feels relatable, “art that feels like it could be for a child and a mom at the same time or a grandmother and a teenage boy—something we can all understand.”

It worked. Volo has amassed 26,000 Instagram followers and has pieces adorning walls in Sweden, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, creating an impact that extends beyond borders. “When I started diving into this style, it just became another way to communicate that’s visual and doesn’t require a language,” she says.

Despite her success, Volo still has times when she feels imposter syndrome, like when she showed up to a street-art site with a bucket of paint instead of spray-paint cans like the other artists. In those instances, however, she reminds herself to own her process and trust herself.

“It’s not about the tools,” she says. “It’s just that your creative process is significantly different, and instead of being ashamed of it or hiding it or trying to alter it, really embrace it and ride the wave.”

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