Meet Artist Monika Correa
Introducing Monika Correa!
Monika is a multifaceted creative force - an artist, passionate activist and aspiring architect based in Brisbane.
We visited Monika in her serene apartment (with original 1970’s fit-out) and our discussion meandered from her art practice to the process of collecting second hand mid-century modern furniture, apartment green spaces and recovering from being on the ground during Australia’s recent federal ‘climate’ election.
We got the chance to sip tea and browse through Monika’s beautiful visual journals and out-of-print books about ancient South American gold!
Read on for our interview with Monika below:
Tell us about yourself in your own words.
I’m a Latina living on the Southside of Meanjin (Brisbane). My full legal Colombian name is Monika Noemi Correa Buitrago. I am currently studying my second degree in Architecture while working part-time in the industry, as well as doing graphic design for The Queensland Greens. I’ve recently pushed myself back into doing what I love, drawing; and it’s proven to be a cathartic process in healing from trauma and rediscovering the passion I have for storytelling using motifs and symbols that coincide with my upbringing.
Your work explores personal cultural histories - could you tell us more about your multicultural upbringing and how this influences your art practice?
I was born in Meanjin, with both parents migrating from Colombia separately in the 1970’s. We are a big family with most extended relatives living in Naarm (Melbourne) and South America. I had a beautiful childhood with two very hardworking parents who were proud of their rich latinx blood. My dad was a practicing artist and a part of the few Latin Jazz bands. We were surrounded by beautiful music, traditional Colombian food and always encouraged to be creative.
That aside, outside of my home life I struggled with my identity. I felt a lot of shame about who I was, what I looked like, what my family looked like and what they sounded like; I do think living in Queensland contributed to this as it wasn’t such a culturally diverse state growing up. It was very common for people to not even know where Colombia was in the world, even today I am still meeting people who have no idea that Spanish is the main language spoken (as well as hundreds of other native indigenous languages). It wasn’t until I came into adulthood and lived in Colombia momentarily when I was twenty-one that I started to recognise the beauty of my families culture and what it was to be an Australian / Colombian and that there was no right or wrong way of who I had to be.
I bought over some of my designs that distill meaning into motifs - feminine torso, giant protective shields. Could you tell us more about the reoccurring feminine motifs in your own work?
The feminine motifs represent the strong, powerful women in my bloodline - this including my ancestors and grandmother I never had the chance to know. They are the shield holders and protectors of everything and everyone in my family. In my illustrations, I have primarily drawn myself surrounded by women sitting in circles or watching over me in my process of dealing with trauma; something they themselves had once dealt with before.
You work across a few different mediums in your practice. What is your favourite? I’m always so excited by your paper maché and cardboard sculptures as well as your ink drawings.
If I had a larger space I’d definitely be doing more sculpture making! At the moment, working with the resources I have, illustration has been a great way for me to focus on my practice of storytelling. I have been recently experimenting with different mediums with illustration and have really enjoyed painting with acrylics and using oil pastels. It’s been really nice to just experiment and have no real deadlines or exhibitions to work towards. Just making for myself right now. It’s quit blissful!
What drew you to Architecture after studying Fine Art?
While I was living overseas in Medellin, Colombia - I learnt a lot about the architecture and the impact design had on what was once an infamous city. Today, after working tirelessly to overcome its turbulent history, it is beaming with progressive community projects and incredible city planning connecting the cities disadvantaged ‘comunas’ to public spaces. I could go on and on about this city, but Medellin definitely ignited my desire to go back to university and focus my architecture practice on researching and designing beautiful social housing and public spaces forming stronger communities.
Your apartment is truly such a unique space, the original fit-out is so appreciated by you as the occupants. I’d love to know more about your process of collecting your furniture pieces? Any lucky finds or things with interesting stories? I know we are both furniture design aficionados!
Gumtree, and Facebook Marketplace are a goldmine! You do have to have some patience and sift through a lot of misspelled ads. (I accidentally searched dining chairs as ‘dinning chairs’ in Gumtree and found the coolest 4 piece Scandinavian teak set, only time my awful misspelling has paid off!). I do generally prefer going to op shops overall though. My favourite item would have to be a very old mirror I found at Vinnies. It’s a big rectangular piece with oak timber framing for a very reasonable $100.
I love how you described your heritage apartment building Torbreck as having a cult atmosphere! People are protective and want to preserve its heritage! Could you tell us more about that? It is amazing that it almost had this incredible rooftop green space - it would have been ahead of its time if that came to be!
From what I’ve heard, there are a lot of designers and architects that live in the building who are passionate about its history. The concept of Torbreck was by far ahead of its time back in the late 1950s. The architects Aubrey Horswill Job and Robert Percival Froud designed both the Garden Block and Tower Block with the original plans including over an acre of green space, indoor gardens, a playground and rooftop cafe. Sadly, due to underestimated construction costs and lack of Brisbane City Council approval they weren't able to finish the development true to the architects original vision. Today, Torbreck residents are a thriving community that host quarterly book clubs for fellow neighbours in the building and working bees in the surrounding gardens. At the two foyers of the buildings there are tables that residents leave books, magazines, newspapers, CD’s and other used items for the taking. This sense of community is inspiring and just downright wholesome, something I feel very lucky to be a part of!
Tell us about how you came to work for the Greens party? Many of us are feeling anxious and defeated by politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders when it comes to climate change. Do you have any advice on how we can continue our activism and affect change on a personal level?
I got into activist work in late 2017 with the Stop Adani crew and wanted to be more involved with political work as I found myself becoming more and more passionate about ‘community centered’ city planning and (lack there off) well designed social housing. I saw what the Greens were advocating for and each policy had me growing more and more interested in what they were doing to challenge the current political system here in Meanjin.
My hardworking and dedicated close friend who works at Michael Berkman's office (Greens State MP for Maiwar) mentioned they needed a part-time graphic designer. I work at the office one day a week, and it honestly feels like the most rewarding job. It’s so great to see so many people in the Maiwar community respond positively to what their local MP and his team are working towards. The team are so dedicated in putting the community first and hearing them out, and that’s how it should be with politicians, always providing an open dialog.
Realistically relying on hope isn’t enough, allow this to motivate you and do something about it. Join a local group advocating for a change in policies that you’re passionate about, set up meetings with your local MP and voice your concerns, support activists (or become one); they are dedicating their lives to front line action to fight for change.
What is your approach to adornment? I love that incredible book you showed me, so much inspiration can be found in ancient South American gold! Do you have a favourite piece of jewellery with a memory attached?
My favourite jewellery is a lot of gold pieces I have brought back from Colombia, or pieces that have been gifted to me by my grandparents and other relatives. A lot of the designs have been inspired or are replicas of indigenous solid gold jewelry from the pre-columbian era.
Where are your favourite places to see art, to relax and experience in your downtime?
To be honest I don’t have a whole lot of time to go to shows in Meanjin as much as I’d like to right now. When I have to work from home/do freelance jobs I head to the State Library, or the GOMA library. I find a lot of inspiration in looking at books even if I am looking purely for inspiration from the pre-columbian era in South America or socialist radical architecture. The resources are so extensive and have kept me there for hours. Definitely my ideal downtime!