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‘It’s all about dedication and love’: painting Trinity for charity

Trinity’s 2020 calendar features 12 oil paintings by Monica Bilbao, an artist and member of the College’s Catering Department. Proceeds from calendar sales will go to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Monica was born in the Basque country and has travelled widely including in Switzerland, Mexico and Guatemala. She studied art in Spain in the 1980s and has had 28 solo exhibitions in Europe and Latin America. We caught up with Monica to talk about what inspired her to paint Trinity, her artistic influences, and what she likes about working in the College Café Bar.

Early evening

Why did you come to Cambridge?

There is a very old tradition and connection between Bilbao and England, especially when it comes to education, which is greatly valued. I have a degree in Fine Art from Anglia Ruskin University and have lived in Cambridge for more than a decade.

How did your time in Haiti encourage your development as an artist?

I visited Haiti in 1997 intending to stay only a few months but ended up living there for more than a decade. During that time I worked specifically on the themes of movement, colour and rhythm influenced by my interest in voodoo symbolism.

A warm spot

What role does music play in your life?

I love all kinds of music traditions including the Notting Hill Carnival, the steel bands of Trinidad and Jamaican reggae. In Haiti I explored the connection with sacred music and researched and classified the very many Haitian musical instruments. This culminated in a series of graphic studies of the three most significant Dominican rhythms: bachata, merengue and perico ripiao. Music remains a passion. I am a singer in a voodoo jazz group, Ayway Mamel.

What inspired you to paint in Cambridge?

The historical complex represented by the different Colleges is definitely a source of inspiration. Working at Trinity gives me the advantage of observing daily the many corners that interest me. It also gives me the opportunity to observe the great work of the gardening team. Their creativity is an incredible vision of harmony and colour.

Monica Bilbao at home in Cambridge. Photo: Lucia Coppla

What do you like about working in Trinity’s Café Bar?        

I love working here. The activity is frenzied sometimes, but the students appreciate your effort. It’s amazing to be part of all this.

How do you combine your artistic and working life at Trinity?

Actually, even though I am a very social person, I am also quite serious and devoted to my work. It’s all about dedication and love.

Monica Bilbao at Trinity College, Calendar 2020, is available from the College Café Bar, the Wren Library and the Porters Lodge, priced £10 (cash only). All proceeds to Teenage Cancer Trust.

Photos: Graham CopeKoga


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