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Rising Stars: Meet Meena Matai

Today we’d like to introduce you to Meena Matai. 

Hi Meena, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
In this last year when we’ve all been quarantined, there’s been a call to return home, to our core, our roots to find our ground. Being an immigrant, the true definition of home for me has evolved from an external concept to one within. Art has been that home for me, a constant in my life. I have created art for as long as I can remember in some form or the other. My dad was an electrical engineer and my mom is a very creative person, so growing up I was surrounded with the best of both worlds – my dad’s soldering iron and my mom’s sewing machine; he taught me how to fix things around the house and she taught me how to cross-stitch and do embroidery. Their value system and a deep appreciation for a balance of creative and critical thinking, saw me pursuing a career in electrical engineering. My parents worked hard to make everything possible for us. I moved to the US from India in 2001, knowing very well the sacrifices my parents had made for me to send me to the promised land. I took art courses at the School of Art at University of Arizona while also doing my Masters in EE. After graduating, the local art centers and art galleries were my go-to places to keep immersing myself in art. With encouragement from my loved ones, I found the courage to show my art at local venues and it has been one of the most satisfying experiences. 

My art sits at the intersection of possibilities, as it seeks to erase boundaries between dualities. I’m an artist, and also an engineer. I’m an Indian, and also an American. I’m a mother, and also a full-time professional. My art depicts the unceasing balancing act between critical thinking and creative process, between being foreign and at home, between providing nurturing care and exploring a sense of self, between settled tradition and a determined generation, between a structured course and a dreamy abstract, between fiery passion and planned process, between action and being. It’s not necessarily a choice that must be made, but an incorporation of a myriad facets. I feel fortunate to play all of these roles weaving a rich, complex life of balance. 

Life has come a full circle as now I try to provide that healthy balance for my daughter, so that she may build that concept of an anchoring home within herself. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Creating art is a beautiful experience, with its many highs and lows. I wish it would’ve been a smooth road to get to where I am. The beauty of it, though, is realizing that it is a road, not a destination. We are all constantly moving, exploring, and living this magical journey. Painting, creating art, teaching art are all wonderful parts of my career as an artist that I love, enjoy, and am grateful for. The challenges are struggling with self-doubt and impostor syndrome. It takes determination, commitment, courage, and a lot of vulnerability to live a life balancing art and engineering. As an artist, I come face to face with my fears on a regular basis, rejection is the subject of many emails and evaluations are plenty. “I don’t have a degree in art or teaching,” “Who am I to think I can succeed doing this?” “What makes me so special?” It, finally, dropped down to a belief in myself, my roots, and my story. A few years back, while I was in this process of sorting out my many roles and struggling with my inner critic, my father passed away all of a sudden and I came face to face with the fragility of life. That’s when I understood that I had to be the real me. I had to tell my story, my family’s story via art. I had to vibrate at such a high authentic energy that only love spreads through my art. I tell myself – passion doesn’t have a plan, dreams don’t have a course, creativity doesn’t abide by rules, determination doesn’t settle down. And that’s what keeps me going. I share my story with everyone I meet, show my art around Austin and also teach art. It’s thanks to my support system – my family, friends, and my incredible artist friends who have made this journey possible by motivating me, standing by me, and inspiring my work. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I create vibrant art that’s full of energy. I’m originally from India and color is my thing, to say the least. My abstracts are inspired by my roots, by nature and its elements, making them uniquely relatable for each individual. Before every piece I seem to go on a meditative and introspective journey, but also include spontaneous play in my process. I garden, go for walks, and get inspired by the plants and trees that surround me. There is something very grounding about this experience. In here I find optimism playfully guiding my vibrant colors, to translate my visions into art. I choose these colors to evoke positivity and collaboration within our communities. 

My incredibly creative daughter and I collaborate to support local nonprofits by using our creative skills. She loves to bake; make friendship bracelets and I love to paint. In the past, we have used our art together to raise funds for Casa Marianella and Posada Esperanza, The Miracle Foundation, Tree Folks, among others. We have immense gratitude for the community we live in. Our friends and neighbors really came together to support each other in this last year, be it with sewing masks for each other or helping fix a leaking pipe. We, as humans, are more alike than we are different and our common human connection ties us together. With my art, I invite everyone to celebrate our similarities and honor our differences so we may create a unique shared experience for us, individually and the species as a whole. And this begins right at home, with friends, neighbors, communities, and beyond. Just as colors come together to form beautiful art so do people to form our supportive communities. 

Please come visit us at Austin Studio Tour, organized by Big Medium. I, along with twenty other local Austin artists, will be showing our art at the Circle C community center. We will be there November 6, 7, 13, 14 2021 from noon-6pm. We would love to share our art and the event will be even more fun with food trucks and drinks. We will be supporting a local non-profit as well. 

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
Artists, today, and forever have been the storytellers of the times. We provide snapshots into society and the current human condition. It’s true today as it has been for as long as our species has known to draw. However, today we are living in times of quick snapshots and the real challenge for artists is being able to capture the interest of viewers within a couple seconds. In this day and age of swiping over millions of images, it is hard to tell a story within a fraction of a second. This is the real challenge we face now. While social media has made it easy for artists to show and share their art and easy for viewers to see art from the comfort of their living rooms, it has made it harder to get people’s attention. Not many people visit art galleries and museums in person these days and even if they do a few handfuls engage with the art. Artists today are not just selling their art, we have to figure out how to bring an immersive experience, compelling enough for people to invest in. And the only way to overcome these challenges is a strong faith in ourselves, a solid support system, and an organized approach to our discipline of art. Find your core, your home, and your community, where you can anchor down when you need to and fly when you feel ready to. Then, I invite you to explore your art with visions of hope and a limitless imagination. I invite you to live fully with purpose, adventure, and bright light while embracing your reality. Let your journey inspire you to laugh and cry, life-size, and even capture these emotions creatively. But for any of this to come to fruition, you have to be positive, to collaborate, to nurture, and support others – beginning right at home, beginning within. 

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