Anabella Monzon has already had a storied career as an artist. A highly regarded muralist, her creations have graced public spaces in Kansas City, Missouri; Seattle, Washington; and San Diego, California for decades — including the Guadalupe Centers daycare and the Kansas City Public Library. In Seattle, she was a mural painting supervisor for the two-mile-long I-90 pedestrian tunnel to Mercer Island who, with the help of 50 children hired by the Parks and Recreation and the Department of Transportation, painted 10 of the 20 murals.
But that life came to an end when her husband died.
“I felt like I could not breathe. I paced back and forth feeling like I could not survive without [him],” said Monzon.
What started with drinking and “self-medicating” eventually ended with her being homeless in Fresno.
After a deeply religious experience, Monzon was able to kick her addictions and begin rebuilding her life. She started by moving into the Village of Hope at the Poverello House. She then enrolled at Fresno City College before transferring to Fresno State to get her B.A. in Art, followed by her Masters of Art in December 2019.
“Ms. Monzon’s art communicates a message of hope to the downtrodden, the addicts, the women fleeing abusers, their children,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean, College of Arts and Humanities. “No wonder then, that her picture hangs at Poverello House and that she was involved in celebrating the founder Papa Mike’s life after he passed away: she is a part of the fabric of this city as a volunteer and an artist—a true citizen of our community.”
During her time as a Fresno State graduate student at the Graduate Art Studios at M Street, Monzon developed her “Mayan Monuments” exhibition depicting the story of creation deities in the first book of the Popol Vuh — or “Book of the People.” The text details the creators of the sky’s four corners; the four attempts to create humans, animals, and the underworld. All of the pieces have Kʼicheʼ names.
“The Kʼicheʼ area is close to Quetzaltenango, midwestern highlands of Guatemala, where my family has lived for centuries, and my mother was born,” said Monzon. “She used to tell me stories from Popol Vuh Mayan codex since I was a child, and she used Mayan myth names to call our pets.”
The coils in Monzon’s sculptures represent the thunderbolts in the sky, called the “feathered serpents” by the Mayans. Thunder was believed to be God because the rain was vital to the survival of the seed that fed people. The coils also represent feathers from the Quetzal bird — which is the National freedom emblem of Guatemala and the name of the country’s currency.
“Ms. Monzon’s sculptures capture Mesoamerican mythology as powerfully as the artifacts one can see in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, yet she tempers her work with an intellectual curiosity that extends to Native American art forms from North America, creating hybrid forms that defy quick identification and mesmerize the viewer, especially with their ever-coiling snakes,” said Chapman.
The sculptures themselves are larger than life. The tallest stand around seven feet high, and the largest have weighed in at about 800 pounds. The Dean’s Council Annual Fund and the Department of Art and Design have supported Monson by providing assistance for art supplies.
Molding clay sculptures this large presented quite a challenge for Monzon. In many cases, the sculptures are so large, they will not fit through the opening of the largest firing kiln at Fresno State. Monzon uses a variety of methods to get around this problem, including slicing the statues, firing the pieces, then reassembling them for the final painting. She has also experimented with using epoxies to slow-cook the clay in one piece.
Her graduate exhibition opened in October 2019. The scale and detail of her work were highly regarded by many in the local art community and was featured on several news channels and the local PBS station.
Monzon is now applying to the Fresno State Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program.
“We need to send the artists to the schools to work with children because they mold the souls,” said Monzon. ”In the Mayan culture, the artists are the translators of reality. So if you take the artist away from the kids in school, you are losing an important part of their development.”
She is also planning future exhibitions of her Mayan Monuments, including one at CMAC scheduled for October 2020.