Artist working on mural

Finding Empowerment Through the Colorful World of Monstrochika

Established in late 2012, Mujeres Mutantes originated as a group of artists who circulated in the art scene of Pilsen, Chicago. After hanging out and painting a few walls together, the original members: Gloe, Naomi Martinez, Meela Paloma, and Delilah Salgado decided to form their own collective. They saw their group as a way to support each other and create art together.

Cover of the Mujeres Mutantes zine volume 1
Cover of Mujeres Mutantes zine Vol. 1

Mujeres Mutantes is an all-woman art collective working in Southside Chicago. They seek to “empower each other and other creative women as well as young artists.” The collective currently has thirteen members and holds an artist in residence at The Port Ministries, a local community-based organization in the Back of the Yards neighborhood; where they give weekly art workshops. Their projects range from zine making, creating seed bombs, and teaching the art of hojalata (tin art traditionally seen in artisanal Mexican works). They host presentations by leading artists and speakers, such as Mercedes Zapata and Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez. As well as sponsor art shows at local community-based spaces throughout Pilsen, such as the Pilsen Outpost and Cultura in Pilsen.

Mujeres Mutantes also produces their own zines as a form of creating visual representations for local women artists. They use the proceeds from their zines as funds for their community art projects. Founding member, Naomi Martinez, aka Monstrochika, published the first Mujeres Mutantes zine in 2014.

Mujeres Mutantes Zine page
Page from Mujeres Mutantes zine Vol. 1

A monstrous being holds a zine-like booklet that emanates the word “Mutantes”. The cover represents the collective as monstrous beings and outsiders, ostracized from mainstream society. This issue contains photocopied images from various Chicago-based women artists. The zine functions as a platform to share works of art from “artists working today, both inside and outside the gallery box, that are original and noteworthy.” Through the distribution and circulation of their zine, Mujeres Mutantes creates access for women artists who feel as outsiders in a global art world that is still 68% men, 70% white, and 51% European. The zine is “a welcoming space for work that is raw or refuses to fit nicely into any category”. This small booklet is a vehicle for underrepresented art to be seen.

Monstrochika's studio space at the Port Ministries
Shot of Naomi Martinez’s (aka Monstrochika) studio at the Port Minsitries

Naomi (Monstrochika) has always been connected to the arts, either through theater, paint, or drawing. In high school, she was part of school programs that allowed her to expand her artistic skills. But even before that, she knew she wanted to be an artist. During one of her rebellious teen moments, Naomi skipped school with a few friends and went to the School of the Art Institute to hear Lady Pink speak. She notes that it was Lady Pink who, “planted the seed to [make art as a career, since] she was one of the first graffiti artists of the New York [who] was making fine art.” From this experience, Naomi aspired to be an artist and in the early 2000s her seminal figure, Monstrochika, was born.

The Monstrochika world
The Monstrochika world

Monstrochika, a combination of the Spanish words “monstruo” (monster) and “chica” (girl), is Naomi’s artist name and identity for her characters. Naomi’s art is a world of imagination. Her characters have a youthful aura seen through their wide olive-shaped eyes. Her art conveys peace and hope through colorful expressions and vibrant backgrounds. Naomi felt she remained “childlike,” due to her childhood of domestic abuse, both as a witness and survivor. Her art became an outlet that let her reclaim a creative expression that she wasn’t able to express freely while growing up.

She created her characters “to bring joy to [her] life, wanting to heal…[where her] inner child is coming out.” Naomi notes that her artwork is somewhat like an escape for her, where she is “free from somebody constantly judging her, controlling her, criticizing her, always looking to see what [she’s] doing, and where [she’s] going.” Her characters are removed from the negative energy she grew up with. They exist in an energetic world of colors and magical creatures. The bright aesthetics of Takashi Murakami’s superflat works can be seen as an influence. As well as, the illustrative world of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Japanese cartoons, such as Domo.

Although Monstrochika has a distinct style, none of her characters are the same. They each carry their own personality and aesthetic. Her characters wear colorful printed clothing with bright blue hair or green colored skin. They freely roam the concrete streets or natural landscapes with their monster buddies in the Monstrochika world. Naomi notes that these “magical monster friends can sense her [character’s] kind hearts”. Monstrochika goes beyond pen and paper, Naomi also transforms her figures into wall art and dolls. Her artistic works include a variety of mediums such as watercolor, marker, yarn crochets, and Xerox photocopy.

As the creator of the Mujeres Mutantes zine, Naomi also makes her own Monstrochika zines that focus on her art, her sketches, and her relationship with other women artists who have influenced her. In her 2016 zine titled “Sketches: Why aren’t you drawing right now???,” the Monstrochika characters are assertive figures who are actively writing, painting, protesting, and meditating. She includes personal phrases and quotes from notable writers such as Octavio Paz. Her text calls for self-reflection, female empowerment, and freedom.

Beyond her zines and distinct characters, Monstrochika can also be viewed as an attitude. It is a demeanor that encourages and empowers viewers to find their voices through art. In her zines, Naomi includes a blank page for the reader to write, draw, and create. This blank page elicits the reader to partake in the zines manifestation and become a part of it. In the words and spirit of Monstrochika, what are you waiting for? “Why aren’t you drawing right now?”

Monstrochika piece part of the 2nd annual Reverberate her Lines (2016) in Phoneix, AZ. Photo courtesy of @QueensUnderEstimatedCrew

If you, or someone you know, is a victim of domestic violence, call the National Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Add the artist, Mujeres Mutantes collective, and Port Ministries on social media to learn more about their work and upcoming projects.


Featured image courtesy of @QueensUnderEstimatedCrew

Further Reading:

Mujeres Mutantes

Naomi Martinez (Monstrochika)

The Port Ministries

Art World 2016 Statistics from Artsy

About the author:

Marissa Del Toro is an art historian and museum professional living in Los Angeles. She graduated with an MA in Art History from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2016 and is currently a Graduate Intern at the Getty Research Institute.


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