Glass speaks to artist Catherine Mondoa

CATHERINE Mondoa is an African-American artist based in London. After graduating from BSc Materials Science Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, Mondoa currently studies MA Textiles at the Royal College of Art. Glass speaks to her about her artwork that closely aligns with the Black Lives Matter movement and challenges the societal implications of White imagery within Black culture. 

“I think there is a definite and palpable lack of black voices in this space,” said Mondoa during our conversation regarding the creative community. “I remember entering the Royal College of Art (RCA)and keeping my eyes open for other black students – other people who look like me and can relate to my experiences and tastes. There are few of us in the grand scheme of things, and we’re dispersed around the college.”

She is not alone. Amid our current political landscape, millions of people worldwide are standing in solidarity and showing support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement condemning the actions of police brutality in the US. Sprung from decades of injustice and disregard, the Black Lives Matter Foundation was founded seven years ago by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tomet in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murder and is a “global organisation in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

Being at the forefront of public attention, due to the violent killing of black people such as George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, among others, the movement is growing both larger and louder. An influx of information has inundated our social media feeds, news outlets and day-to-day discussions, revealing truths of systematic racism that White people may find new, pushing them to reflect on their privilege and education.

Seven Swords by Catherine Mondoa

Growing up Maryland, US, Mondoa remembers being the only Black child in her first-grade class with feelings of isolation and the need to fit in, “I remember my mother doing my hair. She used to relax it with harsh chemicals so that it would look straight and be more manageable and acceptable for my surroundings,” she tells me, “After years of repeated use, the relaxer completely destroyed my hair, and my mom cut it all the way down to a short afro above my head. I remember walking into school that day and feeling incredibly ashamed.”

A feeling that no child, or person for that matter, should have to face – especially because of their ethnic background. Unfortunately, this wasn’t just childhood alone; themes of micro-aggression and bias have followed Mondoa, and other black men and women alike, in her footsteps, making her feel like ‘other’ more often than not.

“I remember people crossing the street when they saw me approach. I remember professors in university calling me and other black girls in my graduating class the same name throughout our time in uni because they thought we all looked the same. I remember the stick-thin white girls in my middle-school class commenting on my thunder thighs, curvier features common to black women and a family trait that I eventually grew into. I remember travelling around my college town and people constantly and immediately assuming that I attended the large state school and displaying immense shock when they learned I attended the private school up the street,” lists Mondoa, noting that these are only a few from many acts of discrimination that she has faced in her lifetime.

Catherine Mondoa’s Black Madonna interpretation

Throughout this time of civil unrest, everybody has a duty in order to create a positive outcome. From attending protests, donating funds, to simply just educating themselves; everyone can do something to make a change. Flocks of artists have been creating visual representations to endorse the movement. In times of adversity, creative voices always prevail – speaking on a primarily visual level gives them the ability to connect to people in a multitude of ways.

Mondoa, in the wake of BLM,  began to design protest t-shirts with the goal to fundraise for organisations and push the cause forward. Recalling her own protest experience as beautiful and uplifting, Mondoa felt empowered to be part of a “swell of people, around the world, speaking in one voice for change.”

Since then, her artistic venture has evolved, inspiring a much stronger sentiment, “Police brutality and other forms of systemic racism violate the Black body and I seek to honour the dead and to celebrate the living,” she explains, taking this opportunity to express her personal views and create a mode by which she can express her own blackness and background, “with or without the creation of the shirts, my partner’s prompt to create imagery to help people in her community understand and contribute to the BLM movement gave me the push to really examine my [own] identity and where it fits in the grand scheme of things,” she continued.

Black Madonna by Catherine Mondoa

Combining her background in the Roman Catholic Church with her heritage and experiences, Mondoa’s artwork heavily reflects the societal implications of White imagery within Black culture – highlighting the concept that “despite the geographic location of the biblical stories, we primarily see white figures as the central characters.” Her work confronts these traditional religious representations, such as the Virgin Mary (who is considered the pinnacle of femininity and most often depicted as pure white and motherly), and replaces them with the Black female form, associating her purity with that of a Black Woman.

Considering the phrase “give people their flowers,” the multimedia artist also explores elements of graphic design by writing BLM in a bouquet of funeral flowers and juxtaposing images of protests with fields of lilies. In the eyes of the media, Blackness often has negative connotations, “it’s easy for the media to spin stories of our suffering and to ignore the needs of our community,” says Mondoa, “we cry out because we are in pain [and] because of this, I consider Our Lady of Sorrows and imagery of the Virgin Mary as a comfort and an advocate for the suffering of her children.”

To Catherine Mondoa, justice for George Floyd looks like a compilation of many aspects, “It looks like taking action in the face of every instance of violence towards black people instead of hiding behind a poster child. It means pushing for justice for black women like Breonna Taylor and remembering that the Black community includes more than black men. It would mean defunding the police and investing in community outreach, including mental health resources, investments in education, and social work.”

Our Lady of Sorrows by Catherine Mondoa

“It would mean stopping polished company statements and surface shows of solidarity and instead hire and place black professionals on boards, invest in black businesses, donate to community organisations, invite black panellists as more than “diversity” speakers but as experts in their field like you would anyone else, and constantly challenge racial stereotyping and bias no matter how small,” she adds.

“My hope for the future is that the abilities of black artists, the richness of the black experience, and the flavour that we add to new spaces begins to take precedence as necessary voices and components in an increasingly global world,” Mondoa passionately expressed at the end of our conversation, urging everyone who can to use their privilege and platform to speak up and play their role in creating a positive, actively anti-racist outcome.

by Molly Denton

Follow Catherine Mondoa’s art account here: @beingmito