During her time at Virginia Commonwealth University, Monica Jimenez Sablich felt she had a lot of catching up to do because she was different from her classmates and a nagging problem for her — a 15-year gap between starting her undergraduate studies in her native Peru and her return to college.
“I feel like when I started at 18, I didn’t take advantage of all the things my school offered,” said Jimenez Sablich. “When I got back to school, I remember my first semester when I emailed the professors and I was like, ‘We’re going to sit down, we’re going to make a plan from day one. I just want to know what I can do and what I can benefit from?’”
Her hard work resulted in awards and scholarships she didn’t even think she would have access to as a non-traditional student. Jimenez Sablich was the first recipient of the Friends of VCU Libraries Scholarship and has also received the George and Nancy Woltz Foundation Scholarship and the VCUarts Dean’s Scholarship in Graphic Design. And this month Jimenez Sablich will be completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design at the VCU School of the Arts.
She began her college journey right out of high school but dropped out of art school in Lima, Peru halfway through. Shen then traveled to the United States on a temporary work and study visa through a student exchange program offered by a company in Peru. She took a summer job at a restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia and was able to attend William & Mary’s German and history classes for a few weeks to get a taste of the college experience in the US. In Williamsburg she met her future husband.
They eventually married and moved back to Lima, where Jimenez Sablich worked as a graphic designer. Then, in 2017, after several years, the couple decided it was time to return to the US to be closer to Jimenez Sablich’s in-laws in Virginia and give her a chance to attend VCU.
When they moved to Richmond, Jimenez Sablich volunteered with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This led to a paid position there as communications coordinator from 2018 to 2020.
She entered VCU’s graphic design program in 2019, with credits from her courses taken as an undergraduate in Lima granting her transfer student status. Jimenez Sablich was enjoying a full personal semester before the pandemic.
In 2020, Jimenez Sablich accepted a position as communications coordinator at the Latinos in Virginia Empowerment Center, a nonprofit organization that works with victims of domestic violence.
Typography is a strong influence on Jimenez Sablich’s graphic design work and research, but she has found that examples of lettering used on the streets of Lima are hard to find in the graphic design collections and books across the United States. Therefore, she made the study and replication of the typography used in urban graphic expressions in Peru – from outdoor restaurants to event posters – the focus of her older exhibition work.
“I’m currently studying the letterform in Peruvian graphic design on posters, signs and even transportation,” said Jimenez Sablich. “There is a very distinctive style. I’m trying to piece together the story behind it so I can share it.”
To learn more about the bold, colorful letters she describes as an urban style, Jimenez Sablich independently took online courses with Peruvian graphic designers.
“You see these types of letter forms on public transport or in the back of trucks to write the maximum load of the truck. So that’s the name of the letterform — La Maxima,” said Jimenez Sablich. “You also see these types of signs and letterforms in urban public settings, like fruit markets.”
Jimenez Sablich produced Peruvian typography style signs for the VCUarts Graphic Design Senior Show which was a result of her research and work.
“It has a lot to do with our national identity,” said Jimenez Sablich. “It’s an amalgamation. It has to do with immigration and that Peru is a multicultural country. It is very representative, but for a long time it was despised, seen as something of the lower class.”
Upon graduation, Jimenez Sablich will join Dominion Energy on a team that produces training materials for employees. But she still wants to learn about and shed some light on South American typography.
“I feel like my approach to graphic design has shifted from being a lucrative or stable job to a practice where you can actually make a difference or make a difference,” said Jimenez Sablich. “One of my dreams is that I want to help fill graphic design archives with information from Latin America, especially Peru.”
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