Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene: Mónica Alejandra (lamdemonica)

With the internet being so easy to access, it has become easier for independent artists to find an audience and let their work be known. As a result, a variety of movements, collectives, and scenes have found a way to pave their path. The independent art scene in Puerto Rico is no different. Recently, many artists from a variety of disciplines have found platforms that have made it easier for them to share their work. In addition, small businesses such as Electroshock in Santurce and Rio Piedras, bars like Off The Wall in Mayaguez, book stores like La Casita Books and Gifts in Aguadilla, Libros AC in Santurce and Libros 787 online, and independent festivals like Feria de Libros Independientes y Alternativos and Tintero: Festival de Cómics y Arte Independiente de Puerto Rico have provided up-and-coming artists a space to display their talents. “Puerto Rican Women Killing It in the Independent Art Scene” is a series of  interviews that provides a glimpse at some of the women who have recently gained recognition in the art scene. Though the artists are asked similar questions, some are asked queries surrounding their work, specifically.

What’s your name and what do you do in the arts?

My name is Monica Alejandra and, right now, I’m focusing on drawing comics. Humor and writing have always been an integral part of my life. It helps me understand myself and others. When I was little, I remember walking around with notebooks I had filled with jokes so I could make my family laugh at any time. I always looked forward to our family meetings so I could crack open the notebooks and make everyone laugh. I don’t believe I ever outgrew that phase. I believe many people stop being creative at a certain point because they are scared to know themselves. I still create because it’s how I process the experiences life throws at me. 

What got you into the visual arts? 

After Hurricane María, my 90-year-old grandpa stayed with us for a while and I took care of him most of the time. The trauma from the Hurricane and the conversations with my grandpa made me look for a way to vent my feelings. I began writing poetry and humorous collages which later evolved into drawing comics. I like to take day to day real life existential crisis and represent them in a humorous way. I’m in love with creating them.

Art has always been present in my life because my family is very creative. My older sister paints since she was very young. She would always ask me to help and get me involved in her projects. I remember she would put on old tv shows and musicals while she painted all night long and those are some of my most valuable memories. With my other sister, I created comedy songs and videos. So, creative expression has always been present in my life. But the comics are the perfect way of taking experiences, that are mostly painful for everyone, and expressing them in an absurd way. If people relate and it's funny, it helps ease the pain. I’ve always loved both writing and comedy so this is the perfect medium to play with both.

How did you develop your style? 

Heartbreak can be a big catalyst for developing your style if you choose to grow from it.

I’d say my style is just beginning to define itself as I’m on the process of getting to know myself. I just recently started sharing on social media the things I’m creating and I’m learning to use my voice without fear. Currently, I talk about being yourself, voicing your views and feelings, choosing to find beauty instead of choosing to criticize and judge people that aren't like you. I’d say my style is quirky and unapologetic. I also enjoy pop culture so I play with that too. 

How has it evolved through the years?

I’ve learned some important lessons recently: let go of perfection, it's just something that disables you from expressing what you want. Also, creativity is wonderful in that it keeps growing the more you nourish it. Lastly, I’ve been focusing more on what it means to be happy when we ignore other people's expectations. Success is something you define for yourself. I hope my work keeps evolving and I can develop more creative projects on the island. 

What are some of your influences and inspirations?

I’m a big Flavita Banana and TuteHumor fan. There are also many awesome artists like Celeste Mountjoy (filthyratbag), Pepita Sandwich, Soy Cardo, Maremoto, Liana Finck, Myashi, LaCricaMia, CheckInMela, Yaymondays, Comoeloro, Lorraine Rodriguez, Amanda Oleander, DiasComics, SodaPopComics, Cristina Daura and ModernadePueblo. Those are some of the artists but just people. We all have a story to tell. Lichtenberg said “there’s nothing more interesting on Earth’s surface than the human face”. People that question the motivations behind their actions. People that do things despite the fear of rejection and shame. People that choose to change despite how difficult it can be. I’m a very sensible person so i get inspire by everything. My family inspires me to be myself and follow my dreams. They know me best with all my flaws, my beauty, my weirdness and my fears but they love me entirely. I feel the same way with all of them. That’s everything for me.  My best friends are very supporting and wonderful. In Puerto Rico, I meet people everyday that have overcome so many things and aren't afraid to share their struggles. For me, that's the greatest thing.

Is there any other form of art you wish to pursue? If so, what field and why?

I studied theater on college. I’ve worked on theater and film related projects before. I love acting. I love writing. Right now, I want to study more. Education is very important to me and I plan to pursue a graduate degree. At some point, I’d like to work as a teacher/professor. 

What do you think about the current state of the arts in Puerto Rico?

There are so many fantastic and hardworking people creating in Puerto Rico that are putting in the work and have a great desire to develop their projects. In film, theater, illustration, music, etc. I think people have stories to tell and are less afraid to tell them. I think the Hurricane really changed our sense of community and the fear and loss we experienced has been something that has left artists with the need to express the pain we feel. Also, I see women empowered to speak about things they’ve been told to stay silent about. This gives a sense of community to the island. Despite the times of austerity, artists and producers are fighting to develop and, more importantly, sustain, their artistic projects. It inspires me. 

What do you think about the current state of the independent scene in Puerto Rico?

I know many young actors, directors and musicians that keep hustling and looking forward to their future and have so much discipline. The independent scene artists in Puerto Rico are asking themselves important questions about who we are as a country, as Puerto Ricans, how we can change our notions of masculinity and femininity to create art that is inclusive, anti-capitalism and colonialism. There is a sense of preserving our culture and appreciating art that permeates. 

If a young girl came up to you and said she wanted to be an artist, what would be your advice for her?

Your voice is the single most powerful thing you have and you should always express how you feel about yourself, your country, your relationships. Learn the history of your country so you can know yourself better. You should define what you want to create for yourself and be proud of that. 

What is your biggest goal right now?

I want to keep creating. Understanding myself. Understanding my country. Letting go of fears and loving more. Women are held up to this idea of perfection that is very harmful and we all should make this conscious decision to question that and let it go. Also, learning to let go of people’s expectations of me and focusing on  empowering others to do the same.

What do you seek to achieve with work?

Empathy and a deeper understanding of people. We all have doubts and awkward moments and that’s beautiful. To let people know that we all have a very powerful voice inside and we must not be afraid to use it because the price of staying silent is yourself. Fear eats you up. You should strive to empathize with your uniqueness, your sensitivity and understand that we’re all struggling. I also wish to communicate that honesty and respect are the only way to construct relationships. Letting go of gender expectations will make for stronger relationships and a better future.

Find Mónica Alejandra on Instagram