When you think of Tijuana, you probably still think of thirsty underagers crossing the border to drink and gamble, or perhaps of drug mules running from the law.
And it has been kind of like that, at times.
Having visited a couple of times now in the last couple of years, when I think of Tijuana, I think of giant statues.
They're everywhere, especially in Zona Rio and along the "Road of the Heroes," where they rise up from nearly every traffic circle and dot the hillsides—paying tribute to Aztec warriors and Mexican Revolution heroes and even Abraham Lincoln.
So it's no surprise that in 1989, with the Tijuana Centennial coming up, an artist might want to make his own gigantic, figurative, sculptural contribution to the landscape—a "gift" to the city, as it were.
Photo: Flickr user sanzibar (License: Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved)
But when Armando Garcia offered a giant statue of a nude woman to the City of Tijuana to proudly display as public art, they didn't want it. So, although he'd never sculpted before, he built the thing on his own private property.
"Tijuana III Millenium," as he calls it—but more commonly known as La Mona—rises five stories tall, and although she was originally made of concrete that he hand-sculpted over a rebar frame and then painted white, she's gone through a couple of cosmetic changes over the years.
Her current colorful state is the rest of a group art project that used her naked, concrete body as a canvas...
...each street artist claiming dibs on a body part...
...and giving it their own design.
Perhaps the nuttiest thing about La Mona is that Armando has, for significant stretches of time, actually lived in the sculpture, which is outfitted with a kitchenette and a tiny wooden ladder that allows you to climb up into her chest and look out...
...and, of course, look down at her feet.
Her right arm is raised in a fist of national pride, strength, and solidarity, with a pinky raised almost to pinpoint Tijuana's exact position on the map of Mexico.
Armando actually based La Mona's perky, curvaceous figure on a former girlfriend who he was dating at the time...
...having previously been unable to convince good-looking strangers to model for it.
Although he's still in touch with the model, they're no longer romantically involved...
...and no one in the world—not even her current partner—knows that it's her standing there, in the middle of a Tijuana ghetto.
But, of course, she knows.
Ever since she was first built, Armando has tried to come up with some kind of background for the statue, so she's not standing there completely isolated from any type of environment.
And then it hit him, and now he's got a new project to take on, in addition to trying to restore La Mona. He's going to surround her with fiberglass butterflies, a reference to the impressive monarch migration that happens every year.
The only real threat to La Mona's survival? The pigeons. And, of course, their poop.
The current color scheme was only supposed to last a couple of months, but Armando liked it so much that he's kept it for over a year and a half now. And he's not sure how much longer he'll keep it.
Probably until some other inspiration hits him. Or someone else approaches him with a new and interesting idea.
For more photos of La Mona Libre when she was painted white, visit the lovely photo album of Flickr user Yupi Harris.
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