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Monica Canilao is an Oakland-based artist that creates textured, multi-layered tapestries of found objects, paper, paint, and delicately architectural, otherworldly jewelry.  Her home, art work, and the mosaic of found, antique, thrifted, gifted, handmade, and repurposed clothes and jewelry she wears reflect the way she weaves magical objects and the stories they carry together with her life journey.  When I decided to create a project documenting the amazing people behind my custom jewelry, I first thought of Monica, who adorns her body with such intention.   

More information on the creation process and origin of the piece below. 

Monica came to my studio with heavy, perfectly organized trays of thousands of gemstones, vintage beads, antique bone, and found trinkets in tiny compartments, an antique bone comb carved into a wolf, and a colorful patch originating from the Hill Tribe community of Thailand gifted to her by a friend.  (I was contacted by someone who identified the embroidery style as Hmong, one of the ethnicities of the Hill Tribe community, and that it was intended to be a back patch, called Paj Ntaub. They suggested it was bad luck to wear it on the front, and while I couldn't find any sources to verify that, Monica has since used the piece as a wallhanging.) We laid out supplies we were drawn to like white jade diamond and antique African bone beads and started brainstorming about creating a protective breastplate with the patch while Monica sketched what she was envisioning.  Because intertwining cords-- and specifically knots-- are so complicated to conceive through drawing, I usually work very organically, with my hands, seeing what the cords want to do.  I typically work from a very hazy blueprint of 'feels', color, shape and scale, then let pieces evolve, never quite knowing exactly how they will end.  I loved Monica's sketch and I thought it was an amazing challenge to my normal work process to try to create a piece envisioned by someone who hasn't worked with my cords before.  Monica's own delicately symmetrical beaded/metal jewelry reminds me of the colorful sacred geometry of ancient cultures and is so different from my chunky, often monotone, sometimes asymmetric, fiber work.  After months of troubleshooting, problem solving, and playing I ended with a High Priestess breastplate that felt like the way Monica feels to me: fierce and delicate, queenly, wise, otherworldly and journeyed like an old soul or a found treasure from a bygone era.  


Monica’s historic home felt like the right space to photograph her in the piece. Built in the late 1800s and owned by only a couple families before her, she turned a home that had fallen in to disrepair, squatted by a family for decades into a time capsule intertwining their legacy with her’s.  In the stairway the grandmother who lived there had pasted together a giant collage of images from 60s and 70s era magazines and posters that Monica is currently restoring.  A large image of Malcolm X,  an original "Keep On Truckin’" R. Crumb poster, and an iconic draft Joan Baez/ Mimi Fariña resistance poster “girls say yes to boys who say no” are pasted among magazine tear outs, all faded and crumbling beautifully.  Monica’s bedroom, dripping in antique jewels and a shimmering gold tinsel chandelier salvaged from after a party, has a cozy gold gilded window seat ceiling by Lisa Ostapinski that bathes the room in a warm glow at golden hour.




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