VCFA MFA in Graphic Design alumnx, illustrator, designer, and educator Simona Bortis-Schultz had a poster selected to be honored and included in the 2023 International Poster Biennial Exhibition in Category B: Cultural.

Bortis-Schultz’s selected work is a poster that originated from her VCFA thesis, TO HOLD YOUR HEART IN YOUR TEETH, Women’s Work: The Semiotics of the Romanian Blouse. As Bortis-Schultz writes, her thesis work “…examines the Romanian folk garments’ symbols as they echo Neolithic beginnings as protective signs that chant of preservation, fortitude, and survival.” Inspired by her thesis, Bortis-Schultz is set to continue her work in her upcoming book To Take Your Heart in Your Teeth, Women’s Work: The Visual Language of the Romanian Blouse.

As a part of the 2023 International poster Biennial Exhibition, all selected posters will be exhibited in multiple exhibitions in the United States starting in Los Angeles, California in Long Beach followed by openings in Iowa, Indiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and other locations. Throughout 2024, the posters will be exhibited around the world in countries such as Poland, China, and more. In October of 2023, all of the posters and winners will be published in the official United States International Poster 2023 catalog.

To learn more about the thesis and selected poster, read excerpts from VCFA’s Q&A interview with Simona Bortis-Schultz below.


Q: First, can you tell us more about your VCFA thesis as a whole? What was the work, what did it explore, and where did the inspiration for your thesis work originate from?

A: Born out of frustration with balancing my grad work within my life as a working mom, led me to thinking of the feminine archetype and what this represented. I had just read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found it very clear in spelling out the hero’s role but was really wondering about the heroine’s role? I went on a quest to discover the feminine archetype’s role. I was also doing research on aspects of my own cultural background. I came across some ancient symbols from Neolithic times that endured and were sewn by women and continue to be embroidered on the Romanian folk blouse today.

Q: In your thesis, you explore topics such as women’s work, weaving and garments, Romanian traditions and histories, and more. Can you speak to the importance of highlighting these topics in your thesis work?

A: Since the beginning of time, women have swept up, beautified, patched up, clothed, and fed, and nurtured homes, caves, temples, and the people within them. This toiling away has been largely invisible, expected, and taken for granted in our modern, patrilineal societies. A popular proverb so accurately says “Man may work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.” Women’s work conjures up a derogatory term of demeaning, menial, and expected labor overlapping global, cultural gender roles. To Take Your Heart in Your Teeth, Women’s Work: The Visual Language of the Romanian Blouse offers a voice to the enduring, ancient folk symbols embroidered on the blouse from antiquity to today, their meaning and links to the nostalgia of the immigration experience. The book aims to cast light upon this enduring women’s work from prehistory to the present day within the context of contributing to the Western design canon.

Q: Now, we’d love to learn more about the specific poster from your thesis that was recognized in the 2023 United States International Poster Biennial in Category B. Can you tell us more about this specific composition? What’s the story behind this work in particular? What was your specific process when crafting this poster?

A: This illustrated poster came about in my process of writing about the Romanian blouse and its meaning for those who have immigrated. I noticed in old photos from when we first landed in America to that first year I would wear my folk blouse in all school photos and it was also there in my Romanian passport. It was an anchor in bridging old and new worlds. The individual symbols represent codes but the blouse itself is an integral piece of ethnic identity. Attempting to show this in a poster that communicates an aspect of displacement while also showing the comforting aspect of this stitched piece of clothing with all its talismans intact. This poster will also live in my upcoming published book, To Take Your Heart in Your Teeth, Women’s Work: The Visual Language of the Romanian Blouse, which is based on my MFA thesis.

Q: For your specific poster and the thesis as a whole, what impact did you hope to have on your viewers/audience? What kinds of conversations/thoughts did you hope to invoke with the work? And what kind of impact did this specific poster and thesis as a whole have on you?

A: My hopes were to show the struggle and rerooting aspects of immigration and how this folk garment comforts, supports, and moves us forward.

In many ways it offered a voice to those enduring women who, for centuries, created these hidden stories within embroidery on a blouse. The thesis research led to publishing a book that creates a larger conversation.

Q: Your work was recognized by the 2023 United States International Poster Biennial in Category B. Can you speak more about what this recognition is and what it means to you as a graphic designer?

A: It is an honor to be among such a talented set of designers whose poster work ranges from social and cultural issues to purely forms of impactful, visual expression.

It clarifies for me the role of working with illustration within design as a form of impactful, creative expression. Also, as an Eastern European born American person, this recognition offers an international platform for graphic design exhibition that isn’t solely commercial.

Q: Do you have any upcoming work you’d like to promote? Additionally, how can people keep up-to-date with your work?

A: My forthcoming book To Take Your Heart in Your Teeth, Women’s Work: The Visual Language of the Romanian Blouse, soon to be published this winter, is based on my thesis originally created at VCFA. My Instagram account, @simofig8studio, is a good place to keep pace with my latest work.

Read more stories about our Alumnx through our Alumnx Success series. Interested in an MFA in Graphic Design? Visit our program page for more information on our VCFA graduate degrees.