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Repaint History Call For Art Fund Recipient: Mona Cliff
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Repaint History Call For Art Fund Recipient: Mona Cliff

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Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Mona Cliff (Aaniiih/Nakota), I am a mother of 3, ages 11, 12,&14, wife and multidisciplinary visual artist. The foundation  of my art practice  is traditional native american craft. Right now exclusively seed beads and fabric applique. I studied printmaking at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle but quickly started to learn skills from my elders and community as a way to further my arts education. 

From 2009-2018 I was exclusively a stay at home mother. Now that my children are older I’ve  come back to my art practice. SInce 2018 I've been juggling an art career and motherhood. 

Mona Cliff

Image courtesy of the artist
Tell us about an encounter with art that has shaped your practice.

My most earliest encounter with art has been the traditional native american crafting techniques, such as bead work and fabric applique, which we use to define our native american culture. In my younger years I had made regalia and ceremonial items for my family and community. I feel now that  my contributions, skills and lessons I’'ve learned have contributed to how I approach contemporary art and have shaped my practice entirely. Because of these native american traditions I've moved forward with my practice as a way to honor, yet push, boundaries with these traditional materials. 

James Luna also had a big Impact on how I saw creating contemporary native art. He was a visiting artist for a month when I was an undergraduate.  James attended critiques and had thoughtful insights. Learning about James Luna’s performance art widened my own perceptions of what it means to be a contemporary native artist. 

What has your experience been in terms of mentorship and a sense of community in the art world, particularly among women artists? 

Since returning to an art career, only recently, I have been building relationships with women across the country, mainly due to social media. Also the pandemic has played a part in my lessened social interactions. Well, being an introvert it hasn't been hard to avoid a lot of social interaction. The women I have encountered have been the most supportive I've met. There have been a handful of women that have really made me grateful to have in my life, whether it be info, encouragement, insights to my own work and mostly solidarity. I feel blessed to know so many wonderful women. So I do my best to offer support where I can.  

What challenges have you faced throughout your career as an artist?

When I was young it was a lack of confidence, wondering if  the content  choices I was making as an artist were right, there was a lot of self doubt. Becoming 40 has a way of melting away second guesses, also  motherhood has a way of bringing priorities into focus. I became a mother rather late in life, my 1st child at 30.  I made the choice to focus on my new family and motherhood, I loved being a stay at home mom, I still am, but Now I have a near full time job as a professional artist , but i can say now, working on my career as a woman there are many challenges i face. Mostly, the art world is not supportive of parents in general. The burden of home and motherhood does not allow me to go on a 6 month residency, or even if there was a 3 week residency. Is there help for childcare? Juggling the administrative aspects of art as well as managing a household is a challenge, but I feel I wouldn't have taken these responsibilities if I didn't enjoy overcoming challenges. There are times when Being a native woman I feel marginalized to access that others are privileged to because I don't run in the important circle. I am beginning as if I am a new artist. Also I am older, 44 and do not possess social currency. I think a lot of artists rely on success in their career. It's harsh but it's how I see the mechanics of the art world operate.. I try not to let these challenges get to me, I keep applying to opportunities that would be the best fit for me and my family. 

Mona Cliff

Image courtesy of the artist
What advice would you give to artists beginning their career?

Every path taken is not wasted, speaking as an older woman, I thought the times i wasn't making art was lost, but the experiences find there way through, the saying goes, “everything is 20/20 in hindsight”. It really is, I have a serious problem of getting distracted by learning a new skill. Once i've gotten the skill down,  i want to move on. However! This has really worked in my favor, my need to make my own lip balm 7 years ago!? Lip balm knowledge is currently put to use in my art now. need to learn how to make resin earrings? now all the skills are being put to use. In short. Don't stop experimenting, learning, taking breaks to live life. trust yourself. make time every day to do admin work, apply, apply, apply(even if you think its out of your league, *HInt Airport commission)  and try to make something as often as you can, even if you keep it to yourself. I have a pile of glorious terrible kringe art in my studio. It took me time and experience to come to terms with all of this self knowledge. 

What would you change about the art world if you could?

I would change accessibility to the arts for people of color. We need more programs that bring young people into the art world, so they can see the possibilities of self expression. As well as change access to all supporting art careers, we need POC curators, Administers, art collector, Art critiques, handlers, and preservationists.  I would Change museums and major art institutions collections to reflect the american experience of all people. I would make changes and bring higher visibility to women of color as well as collect their art and build art programming that focuses on visibility of women artists. I see a change happening now but I believe there can be more demand for equality, especially for the commercial sector of the arts world. 

How will the Repaint History fund support your career?

Right now, the Repaint History fund will help with art shipping expenses. I've gotten a harsh lesson recently on the shipping industry and size of packages. and help with materials. 

Mona Cliff

Image courtesy of the artist
Are there any new projects you are currently working on?

New projects, I am currently in the beginning planning stages of a commission, 1% for the arts program for the newly built International Kansas City Airport. It will be a piece that spans 17 ft. I am also working on new beaded pieces for the Women to Watch exhibit at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Arts in Kansas CIty. This exhibit is in partnership with the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C

Mona Cliff

Image courtesy of the artist
Who are your favourite women artists right now?

This is a loaded question! Haha. There are artistic qualities I admire about many women artists I follow on Social media, Pamela Phatismo is a long time favorite, I admire her narratives and figurative work. Heather Hart’s large scale installations.  Erin Lee Antonak’s sculpture for her use of traditional native american materials and natural unconventional form , and Rose B. Simpsons clay figurines for the direct simplicity of mixed materials. I could go on because there are so many talented women I admire.