NUVO: How does your family background — growing up in Germany and Ecuador to a Chilean mother and Austrian father — inform your work?
Vanessa Monfreda: My Chilean mother always spoke Spanish to me, and my Austrian father, in German. Naturally, sometimes that was a little confusing and could lead to occasional identity crisis. I ended up in Indy in 1997. After I had been living in Quito, Ecuador, I really missed the winters and four seasons, which I experienced growing up as a child in Bergisch Gladbach, a small town in Germany.
NUVO: Can you unpack your artist's statement for me: "I focus on using discarded materials or whatever is around me...I recycle not just out of environmental reasons, but also economic reasons and availability." Are there aesthetic reasons as well for why you use discarded materials?
Monfreda: Living the “recycle way” became more integrated into my life when my husband and I bought an abandoned fixer-upper in 2009. We jokingly refer to our neighborhood as So-So-Bro (the hoods of Sobro). It’s amazing how an average family discards trash. I collect objects like lids, toilet rolls, milk caps, cardboard boxes, pasta boxes and everyday items that have an aesthetic for me, which I might incorporate into an assemblage or mixed media piece. During my childhood in Germany I was influenced by Sesame Strasse (Sesame Street), “flower power,” Kraftwerk, Joseph Beuys, the German lifestyle of recycling and living green; and later, in middle school, by the art of collage. I started using found materials when my family moved to Quito in 1986. There were few art stores and the materials were very expensive.
NUVO: What drew you to paper mache?
Monfreda: Three years ago I decided to make a handmade piñata out of paper mache for my son and daughter's birthday party. I instantly became hooked. The materials of paper mache are simple and inexpensive: flour, old newspaper, water and glue. Anybody can do it — even a kid. Soon enough our living room was invaded by imaginary friends' piñatas, which I decided to sell at INDIEana Handicraft Exchange, Handmade Promenade and Homespun: Modern Handmade. Children seem to respond best to my colorful paper mache creatures. Adults' reactions seems to be usually the same: “Oh, I did paper mache while I was in grade school!” I am still experimenting with the many possibilities of paper mache. I am still exploring whether it could be more than just a craft or folk art.
NUVO: How did Criaturas come about?
Monfreda: After I met ceramist Lori Leaumont and papel picado artist Beatriz Vasquez-Schlebecker, we decided to host a three-woman show at the Earth House Collective where each artist would present on the theme of “criaturas,” or "creatures" in Spanish, using our respective mediums. Our main mission was for this First Friday show to be kid friendly; that’s why we chose to include a piñata bash.