Latino art of 'Monos'

'Monos' of L.A.
Part whimsy, part marketing, the makeshift statues at Latino car repair shops may be art too.
By Camilo Jose Vergara, LA Times, August 23, 2009

'Mono" is the common name for the humanoid sculptures made with car parts and displayed at garages, car repair shops and junkyards that cater to a Latino clientele. They are common in Mexico and in the barrios of Los Angeles -- folk art and folk marketing.

If you ask the mechanics and other workers at these businesses what monos are about, what they mean, they'll mostly shrug. Monos are made when business is bad and there is nothing better to do, or to improve welding skills. Old pipes for limbs, a broken muffler for the chest and a worn-out catalytic converter for the head. Seeing my interest, some workers were quick to offer to make me a cheap mono. I could wait, I was told: "It would only take a couple of hours."

Are they works of the imagination, I asked Adolfo at a brake shop on Western Avenue? He reluctantly admitted that it took imagination to make a mono, but he would not call their creators artists. But wherever I photographed, someone was quick to claim that he or one of his friends had made the shop mono. I believe they're proud of their whimsical creations and would be hurt to see them dismissed, so they dismiss them first.

Shop owners have to keep an eye on their monos, or chain them to something -- otherwise they are likely to be stolen and sold for scrap metal.

Camilo Jose Vergara is a photographer and 2002 MacArthur Foundation fellow. cv90@columbia.edu. Website: http://invinciblecities.camden.rutgers.edu/intro.html

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