Monica Kim Garza. The Mexican-Korean artist’s paintings and mixed media work depict women with fuller figures partaking in activities such as sun tanning, riding bicycles and lifting barbells bare-breasted. Often the women in her images appear to be going about these activities with little care for the viewer’s attention, and other times their eyes confront the viewer directly. Painted in all shades of brown, Garza’s subtle shading and bold black outlines make the female figures in her works the focus of each image despite their little care for the viewer’s attention.
Her focus on the naked female figure came from drawing inspiration from Native American as well as Inca art and culture. Her father had a deep love and curiosity about these cultures, and Garza spent time in Peru, which is a country which has a rich culture and history with the Incas.
Not there for any viewer’s voyeuristic satisfaction, Garza paints her characters with personalities that come across in their facial expressions and the poses she chooses for them. Her work embraces sexual freedom with no relation to pornographic stereotypes, but simply for the empowering feeling that comes with ownership of multiple forms of pleasure.
Rough brushstrokes reveal the layers of colour that build up on her canvases, creating the distinctive texture that makes her work so recognizable. Her Mexican and Korean roots share a space in her work, with her often pairing Spanish and Korean translations side by side in a painting. Besides these textual references, they also share visual signifiers such as a painting of La Virgen de Guadalupe [title of the Virgin Mary associated with a image kept in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City] hanging on a bedroom wall and women in the kitchen making kimchi [a spicy Korean side dish made with fermented vegetables, usually cabbage].
Self-care comes across as the centre of Garza’s work. She presents women with well-rounded lives – women who exercise, go to the beach, eat a variety of foods, text, spend time with their friends and alone, enjoy sexual encounters and paint.
The message behind her practice can be summarized by the words she painted on one of her artworks, “You a real ass woman ‘n I like it”.