© Justen Williams
Ball is Life: NOLA Has Wiiings Winner Shares Story in Her Own Words
Monique Lorden, winner of the NOLA has Wiiings artist project, reflects on her upbringing, artistry, and love for the game of basketball.
Law school dropout and artist. Software analyst and author. Mother, sister, lover, and friend. As much as I enjoy existing outside of the lines, I often find myself creating them. Perhaps that is why my forms of artistic expression tend to mirror that fact. As an artist, I am always eager to define who I am through my work so that there is no mistaking of who I am not.
I was raised on affirmations. Being raised on loving words, the richness of community and sports truly helped define who I am, and my parents played a big role in that. Growing up in a modest home on the Westbank of New Orleans, my parents always knew that there was a community inside of me as rich as the community that I was surrounded by. My father constantly told me that I was a revolutionary who could change the world with love. My mother told me that I was an artist as soon as she saw my first piece of work. She even bought my first easel; you know the one every kid receives with the intention to paint but is used for everything but creating art. Nevertheless, my mother trusted my passion, placed me in art lessons, and encouraged me to write because she saw who I was and cultivated my gifts through affirmations and encouragement. My mother was also the tracksuit-wearing superwoman who, at every basketball game, would yell "cut the baseline!" So no matter what I set out to do, my parents were always there to affirm my potential as my cheerleaders and sponsors who encouraged me to shoot for the stars.
At the age of 9, my sister and I tried out for the park basketball team. I remember lacing up my light-up high tops and strolling in with my bag on my shoulder and my confidence on full; I just knew that a spot on the team was already mine. We walked into the gym with my mom and her tracksuit looking brighter than anyone’s future. What we didn't know was that there would be no girls’ basketball tryout due to not enough girls being interested in playing for the season. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised when the boys’ team coach eagerly extended tryouts to us.
We warmed up and hit the court in the smelliest yellow scrimmage jerseys. Although not the best gear in the world, we wore those jerseys like we owned them and stepped confidently into the game. As you could expect, the apprehensive boys teased and heckled us but were clearly unprepared for my sister’s crossover and my stolen pass for the layup. To everyone's surprise, we ended up making the team and walked out of that gym with practice schedules and the last laugh. Our confidence was still on full as the lights from our high tops flickered off of the shocked faces we left mercilessly on the court. That year, we went on to help the team win the championship and from then on I knew that for me, basketball was life.
Looking back, I can see how the loving words of my parents and their actions have become a moving force in my life. Even on the court, I am an artist. Off the court, I create the spaces that I can see myself existing in. I am a revolutionary in my own way, and just like the love that my parents have shown me, I show that same love to myself and others by showing up fully as who I am in my work and beyond. It was my upbringing that didn’t allow me to walk off the court that day when obvious reasons encouraged me to take the easy way out. That same upbringing has helped me show up in the face of adversity, pushed through, and persevere. That is exactly what I hope to convey through my art and writing as I continue to pursue this work. Whether it’s a new metal fabrication piece, a mural, a stretched canvas, or a book I am writing, I affirm and express in the name of art and my love for the game.
I’d like to think that my most recent NOLA Has Wiiings art instillation project with Brandan ‘Bmike’ Odums and the New Orleans Pelicans is a great example of this. As part of a larger community initiative to remove worn backboards from New Orleans parks and replace them with new ones, we (the artists) created our own ways of retelling the story of each backboard. It was alchemy at its best.
For my piece, I fabricated the aluminum backboard, iron rim, and gold chain net. Using my tech skills, I installed and programmed lights finishing it off with painted contrasting lines, affirming poetry on the rim, and bright colors. Creating a design the little girl in me would have needed back in the day, I not only told my own story but also reflected a greater one of those who dream, have overcome, and have an unwavering love for the game of basketball. I created my piece for those that understand and believe that above anything else, ball is life.
So, who am I you ask? I am a law school dropout and an artist. A software analyst and an author. A mother, sister, lover, and friend who believes in loving words, community, and the art of persevering. That's where I come from and this what I do: define exactly who I am in a greater world so that there is no mistaking of who I am not.
Monique Lorden is the author of the I Wish For Freedom children's book and winner of the NOLA Has Wiiings project. A Red Bull initiative developed to bring artists from around New Orleans together to celebrate, brighten and educate communities through colorful displays of art that showcase the city's unrivaled ability to rebound. As the winner, Monique will be commissioned to design a full community basketball court in the city of New Orleans.