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Meet Meena Matai

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

Thanks for sharing your story with us Meena. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
Art has been the one constant in my life. I have created art for as long as I can remember. When I was eight years old, I would go to our neighbor’s house who was an artist. She would paint all day long, and I would hang out in her studio watching her create and sing. She was my first art teacher who got me started in the world of art. I was born in India and moved to the United States in 2001.

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be an architect because to me it was the perfect combination of my two favorite areas of study – art and math. Back when I was growing up there really weren’t that many lucrative options and architecture wasn’t considered one. With my family’s direction, I took up engineering. I do love math and enjoy science, so I did well in this field.

I got a Masters in electrical engineering and worked for almost fifteen years. I never gave up my art and painted all along. I took courses at the School of Art at the University of Arizona while also doing my Masters in EE. After graduating, community colleges and the local art centers were my goto places to keep learning art. In all of these years, I participated in art shows/exhibitions and also taught art on the side.

I was trying to balance being an engineer, artist, teacher and a parent all at the same time. Somewhere in there I got overwhelmed and decided to take time away from work to figure out my life. While I was in this process of sorting out my many roles, my father passed away all of a sudden last year, 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. I had to vibrate at such high authentic energy that only love spreads through my art. I now share my story with everyone I meet, show my art around Austin and also teach art.

I am now a full-time artist and entrepreneur. It’s thanks to my family, friends and art appreciators who have made this journey possible by supporting me and inspiring my work.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
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 that the road defines me and my journey. Smooth or not, it’s mine, and I love the way my life has turned out. 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. I went from being in a comfortable career of Electrical Engineering to the very challenging life of a full-time artist. It took determination, commitment, courage and a lot of vulnerability. It still does.

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?” –

All these questions run through my head every single day, but then I remind my inner voice to stay strong and not get drowned out by the loud, very loud, yelling voice of self-doubt and surrender. 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.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I create radiant art that’s full of energy. I choose vibrant colors to evoke positivity and collaboration. My creative journey is spontaneous and playful, yet meditative and introspective.

This past year, I’ve grown my body of work in two main areas – Warli tribal art and Abstract art. With the message of honoring our roots I’ve been working on bringing focus to Warli, an ancient art form from India, that is still practiced today. I’m very honored that one of my Warli paintings is part of this year’s People’s Gallery exhibition at the Austin City Hall.

My abstracts are inspired by nature’s elements, making them uniquely relatable for each individual. They are created with alcohol inks on yupo paper or canvas, and my main technique includes blowing the inks around with a straw, allowing the colors to blend and form patterns organically.

This year, I have taken my art in a new direction. To make this style of art, I start off creating my alcohol ink abstracts on yupo paper, just like I always do. I then carve out holes and burn the edges using a soldering iron – a tool that has been in my house since my early engineering days. I then arrange these pieces to form exquisite patterns, play with light and shadow to convey messages of community and collaboration through my art.

The main message in my art is one of building a supportive community. Hopefully, when people look at my art, they see that I can’t create art alone, that it’s made possible with inspiration from nature, support from them, my friends and family. I hope that the vibrant colors in my art inspire them to be positive, to collaborate, to nurture and support.

We, as humans, are more alike than we are different. Just as colors come together to form beautiful art so do people to form a supportive community. It takes a village to raise a child or to bring about monumental change. My vibrant colors play a small part in building our community.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Connection and Community. There’s an African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together.” I have been very lucky to have a supportive and nurturing community that surrounds me and directly contributes to my success.

I have found wonderful friends who are also artists. We support each other, keep each other in the loop and look out for each other. I’m so grateful for all the art appreciators and collectors because they support art, not just mine, but also of other local artists by showing up at galleries, art festivals, exhibitions, events, you name it.

Texas has a great variety of art galleries that keep our creative culture alive. Our city councils have a dedicated budget for art, grants, events, and exhibitions. It warms my heart to see art being given the importance it deserves because of how much it impacts our socio-political climate.

Texas has so many non-profit organizations dedicated to supporting art and arts education – Big Medium, Chula League where I’m a board member and Creative Arts Society are my favorites. The Contemporary Austin has some amazing educational programs for school kids, and I was lucky to be invited to be a guest artist instructor at one such program.

I also teach art at my home studio, and the reason I’m able to do this is because there are people who believe that their children must learn art. It’s as simple as that! This connected belief in art as a community – that’s my favorite part of being an artist and the most important part of any artist’s success.

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