Monica Kim Garza’s paintings are an ode to carefree brown women of size. Most of her work depicts full-figured ladies of different shades of mahogany baring breasts, nalgas, and chichos while relaxing in bed, shooting hoops, or lifting weights. Their bodies – abundantly curvaceous – are familiar, yet wildly underrepresented. And the level of chill they have achieved is a glimpse into the radical self love many of the artist’s fans desire for themselves.
In one piece, three fully nude women, with their hair blowing in the wind, gleefully lift their arms (or legs) as they ride a tandem bicycle. In another, a model donning only pink underwear, matching gold bracelets and necklaces, and acrylic nails raises her ample thigh as she unwinds beachside.
For many of Garza’s more than 30,000 Instagram followers, the paintings refreshingly celebrate women in their full thunderous glory. It’s a welcome portrayal of confident thick girls who eat good (as in nothing is off limits), stay active, maintain bomb-ass sex lives, and rest when necessary. As some continue to police what full-figured women do with their bodies – whether it’s publicly shaming them for the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, or for their sexuality and sensuality – Garza’s art affirms that round brown women also deserve the good life.
Whether it’s a character, site, or mood, her followers can see themselves in Garza’s art. “I just really love to share my art with everyone and have them see who they are in it,” Garza tells me. But each spectator sees something different. Though all of the women she draws are brown, they’re ethnically and racially ambiguous. Some see them as Latina or Native American; others see them as Asian or African American. That’s likely because Garza’s models are reflections of herself – a biracial, multicultural woman.
Her Mexican father’s and Korean mother’s cultures equally inspire her. In one piece, a woman lies naked on a bed as a framed La Virgen de Guadalupe hangs above her. In another painting, it’s a portrait of Frida Kahlo on the wall. The nude women eat kimchi as well as tacos. Garza even uses both Spanish and Korean words in her art, writing “Piña” beside a topless model devouring a pineapple and, in a more explicit piece, scribbling “Agua Dulce” above a woman sitting on a man’s face.
While her artwork is largely inspired by her Asian mother and Latino father, the sexual tones of her pieces make for awkward dinner table moments. “In my family, we don’t speak about sexuality. My parents are super conservative,” the Georgia-raised Garza says. For years, she hid her paintings, filled with nudity and girl-on-girl affection, from her family, unsure if they’d approve. But when she decided to quit her job as a teacher to pursue art full time, she knew she had to show her parents her pieces so that they could understand why she chose to give up a steady 9-to-5 job.
“My mom is funny. All she does is laugh when I show her,” Garza says. “She thinks it’s nice, but she does recommend that I shrink the bodies. She thinks the butts are too big. Thin is the ideal in Korea.”
Her dad – who she describes as “traditional” – only comments on her artistic talent, not the sexually explicit scenes she paints. “He just says, ‘very good,’ but never speaks to the image. There’s a weird tension with him being conservative and me putting blatant images in his face,” she adds.
Though glaringly sex-positive, Garza’s decision to paint nude women wasn’t political, at least not initially. Artistically, she became inspired by ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian art – both using unclothed bodies in practical, erotic, and ritual pieces – while attending California College of the Arts in 2008. “In school, I was making my characters like [these styles] – nude, super boxy, and geometric,” she says. “I took a break, and when I started again, I kept drawing the characters I used to make, but they evolved to my interests and culture.”
Garza combines this art style with modern-day technology. Her models look at their cellphones or watch Netflix while chilling naked on a bed. She counts Jennifer Lopez, Selena, Beyoncé, and Rihanna as her influences. But hip-hop music also clearly inspires her. Put that all together, and you get women in provocative poses or phrases like “you a real ass women n I like it” written on her pieces.
While Garza, who’s thin, doesn’t necessarily look like the full-figured ladies she paints, she does view her pieces as self-portraits. “I’m not like Frida Kahlo looking in the mirror, but I’m deeply represented in the paintings,” she says. “The gold jewelry is my necklace, the Frida Kahlo picture is really on my wall, the dog is my real dog, the other women are my friends, and if she looks sad, it’s because I really was sad and dealing with a breakup.”
As an artist, Garza’s hope is that other people can also see themselves in the paintings. And with her images on every corner of Instagram’s body positive scene, it’s clear that many do.