(Editor’s note: This is the third in a five-part series featuring artists who identify as Latino / a / x in Johnson County. These will be released each of the next five Fridays during Latinx or National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the stories, cultures, and contributions of those who have come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.)
Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, a Brazilian city nestled between dense vegetation and the Atlantic coast, Monica Correia was surrounded by nature.
Plants, birds, trees – that’s where the movement came from, she said, and the culture was just as alive.
In his eyes, Rio de Janeiro was saturated with color, vibrant. It was practically summer all year round, says Correia.
When Correia later moved to Iowa, she discovered that her childhood in Rio de Janeiro had influenced her interests as an artist.
âI have this belief that everything on the outside is just beautiful,â Correia said.
Correia is an Iowa City-based designer who creates pieces like furniture, lighting and more, working with materials like resin, wood, plastic, to name a few.
She is also the Head of the 3D Design Program at the University of Iowa.
Correia works with organic forms to express the ephemeral movement found in dance, music and nature. By organic forms, she means that instead of working with straight lines and hard edges, she is drawn to creating rounded works, which have curves.
âAnd most things in nature are curved,â she said.
All of his works have stories.
Take the Lampyris collection, a series of lamps inspired by the shape and light of fireflies. Or the Ventosa collection, made up of vases, bowls and pitchers inspired by octopus suckers.
Nature is constantly changing, Correia said, pointing out how, although they may look alike, plants grow, die and repeat the cycle.
It’s a dance, she said.
âIt’s music. It is present in the environment with the song of the birds, with the movement of the plants, âsaid Correia. âIt’s just that we don’t stop to appreciate these things. We should all take the time.
Her goal is to create unique things, and through her work Correia learns something new by designing and building her pieces.
But especially now, Correia has said she is standing up for the environment.
âEveryone is on the phone,â she said. âI’m so sorry that people are passive. They are no longer active. They do not respond to what is outside.
Move to Iowa and find a new passion
Correia’s experience as an architect provided a solid foundation for her other interests in art, she said.
But she always knew she wanted to do more in arts and crafts.
She graduated in architecture from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and worked in commercial interior design.
Her husband, a doctor, had been invited to do research at the University of Iowa hospitals.
She first came to Iowa City in 1997.
Correia had designed interiors for stores and malls in Brazil and Portugal, working in his own company and teaching at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Within months, Correia had to quit her job and bid her farewell, arriving in Iowa doing nothing, she said.
Until she stumbled across the MFA program for 3D design at UI, back when course descriptions were printed in a catalog.
“I was just flipping the pages and finding out what the University of Iowa had to offer and how it would connect, and that was actually the perfect fit because I said, ‘Oh, now I have a chance to make art that I never had the time to do, âsaid Correia.
She and her husband returned to Brazil in 2000, and she resumed teaching and working independently.
Two years later, she got a call that put her on a new path.
âMy old mentor called me and he said, ‘I’m retiring and I want you to apply for my job,’â Correia said. “It comes out of nowhere.”
How teaching at UI fuels Correia’s artistic talent
In 2003, Correia was back at UI as a teacher.
âTeaching is something that was unexpected for me. I didn’t intend to become a teacher when I was an undergraduate student, âshe said.
Correia had worked in an architectural firm in Brazil before teaching.
When an intern there noticed that Correia had an affinity for teaching, it prompted Correia to think about the possibility and led her to a position as an assistant at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
âWhat I love about teaching is the energy, and the students are fresh, young and they challenge every new idea they have,â Correia said. âI like this challenge on a daily basis.
This is particularly difficult because Correia does not teach a subject for which there is only one correct answer.
She poses it like this: You are in a room with 18 students. Each student has a different design. Each design has a different problem.
This means that Correia must use its know-how to solve 18 individual problems.
âIt’s a big exercise for my brain and for my creativity,â she said.
Correia’s research has an impact on her teaching.
When she worked with 3D printing, she decided to introduce it into the UI curriculum.
Balancing your responsibilities as a teacher, program manager and artist can be difficult.
Correia will intentionally set aside time in her schedule for her art and research.
âThis is the best strategy I have found so far,â she said.
Making unconventional art
Making a piece of furniture or an object requires an investment of time.
An idea for something is born, but then you have to figure out how to create it. You need to decide which materials to use, and each material may require a unique process in order to apply it to your design.
Correia understands that he may feel there are barriers in the way of doing something. She encourages people to always try to overcome this obstacle.
As a child, Correia always tried everything she was exposed to, such as sculpture and drawing.
But one thing she always loved to do was hang things up.
âMaybe because it’s cool to look up and see the trees,â Correia said. âThis feeling of being able to stop and look up, because you never do that, that’s kind of an unusual prospect.
âI like to change the angle of perception of people,â she said, explaining that she wants her work to make people walk around, sit differently, or make them look up. âSo my design, as I would call it, is unconventional. “
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle, and the arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Contact her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.