Kalliopi Monoyios ’00 works on “Drops in the Ocean,” a quilt made from single-use plastic packaging. The piece is part of “The Plasticene,” an exhibit featuring works by 16 artists.
Courtesy Kalliopi Monoyios
In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day this April, Kalliopi Monoyios ’00 is highlighting the ubiquity of plastic in our society. Monoyios, who was named for one of the nine Greek muses, is curating, “The Plasticene,” which opened in January at the Art Students League of Denver. The exhibit showcases 16 contemporary artists who work with plastic.

Detail of “Drops in the Ocean”
Courtesy Kalliopi Monoyios
“I wanted to point out the complexity of our relationship with this material that we love to hate,” Monoyios says. “I got a bee in my bonnet about the amount of single-use plastic we were using ... and there are many things that are plastic that I could part with, but I’m not sure I could part with my contact lenses or dental fillings. Almost all of the clothes we wear today [contain] plastic. ... Cars and airplanes are made with plastic components that make them lighter and more fuel efficient.”

One of Monoyios’ contributions to the exhibit was inspired by the tradition of quilting. She started quilting with plastic as an homage to the material’s durability and the prevalence of plastic “scraps” in today’s world. She also incorporates dental floss, plastic mesh bags, and contact lens packaging into her pieces for this exhibit.

Monoyios hopes the exhibit will raise questions and maybe even inspire action. “When you open your eyes and see how plastic makes our lives possible, it becomes harder to ask for an all-out ban. Instead I think we need to ask ourselves, ‘What are good uses of plastic?’ And then we need to demand better choices from the industry,” she says.

“One Time, Forever,” 2019, by Kalliopi Monoyios ’00. Embroidered PTFE (Teflon) floss on “treeless” paper (polypropylene).
Courtesy Kalliopi Monoyios
Monoyios majored in geology at Princeton, but coming from a family steeped in the arts (her mother, Ann Monoyios ’72 *74, majored in musicology at Princeton) she also felt drawn to creative callings. She took drawing and printmaking classes at Princeton. She says her printmaking teacher, Betsey Garand, invited her to the department’s lecture series, which had a lasting impact. “Betsey planted the seed that grew into this tree,” Monoyios says.

Monoyios says some of her most exciting professional experiences involve the intersection of science and art. For 11 years, she worked in Professor Neil Shubin’s lab in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, first as a fossil preparator and then as a scientific illustrator.

“I was the first person to illustrate Tiktaalik roseae [a fossil fish which was discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 2004],” she says. “That was thrilling. There were 375 million year old bones being unearthed at the desk next to me, and we were some of the first people to lay eyes on that.” Her illustration was published in Nature, with an article that was co-authored by Shubin. 

She went on to illustrate numerous scientific articles and books including Shubin’s 2008 award-winning, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year-History of the Human Body.

“It really shaped my thinking for the next decade or so of work,” she says of the project. “It was the first time I was really thinking of how to distill these very complex scientific concepts ... in a way that is not intimidating or doesn’t scream out, ‘this is a science book.’”