Meena Mangalvedhekar, BITe wRITe tHrIVE, 2015, installation (detail)

How would you describe the work that you do?

I’m working mostly in public art. . . . In short I would say that I create work to connect community with spaces and places. Making those intangible connections happen organically is always one of the success criteria I set for the overall experience of a particular project as well as for the body of artworks I’m currently creating through my public art practice. I put people first when I make art, and I keep my process open, so many times making the work with me is the ultimate art work.

Are there ways in which you intend your work to challenge the viewer?

I would say . . . someone who comes and joins me for a project, helps me make the project as a participant, I would call them visitors as well as viewers. They are influencing the work being produced. . . . For my work . . . I think posing the questions is my way of creating the challenge. I want them to have a dialog rather than to respond to a process of reaching a conclusion or finding answers. . . . I want the participants to figure out how to instantly collaborate with a stranger, because to me that’s the origin of a community. It is important to stay connected with that origin point and it can be very challenging.

What have been the greatest challenges to your art career and how do you navigate them?

Staying sane, . . . as in not letting the issues in my reality hit me. . . . There is tremendous pressure for any artist to create a sustainable practice. . . . Living as an immigrant and artist, and sustaining a creative practice is a day‐to‐day challenge. I experiment and improvise but haven’t yet found a formula to navigate those challenges.

What advice has influenced you or your art making?

Meena Mangalvedhekar, BITe wRITe tHrIVE, 2015, installation (detail)

I absorbed two pieces of advice, which made my life easier to stay in the Twin Cities as an artist. One is the formula of synergy; 1 + 1 = 3. . . . I’ve started using that as one  stranger plus one stranger equals what? So, exploring that idea. The second one is . . . in a nutshell, make connections for the sake of making connections. . . . If you don’t know how to approach an issue, just start making connections. . . . You never know what wonders will come out. And, keep going, never give up. 

How do you know when you have been successful?

Success to me is individual; each project has its own success. . . . Being aware of making compromises with a project reminds me of when I am successful. . . . If I am disconnecting myself from the work itself so the work lives well on its own. . . . My projects are not self‐portraits, they are not projects I use to deliver my own philosophies, so that is a criteria I use in planning. . . . In [an] exhibition, I am happy when I stay on schedule, stay organized and . . . learn from it.

Why did you choose to pursue the life of a professional artist?

It is the perfect escape mechanism. It was a dream that came later in my life, I would say. I never thought I would be a professional artist, and the definition of a professional artist kept changing as I moved through life and to different continents. . . . I don’t exactly know what “professional artist” means to me right now since I believe there is an artist in every living organism. . . but right now it is a great tool to make instant friends and avoid dry serial networkers. It is also a VIP pass to conduct inquiry in any discipline.

In your opinion, how is being a woman artist in 2015 different from what it might have been like one, two, three or even four decades ago?

Mangalvedhekar's studio assistants in the studio

I’d rather answer this question as “creative woman” rather than “woman artist.” There is nobody who is an artist in my family, but there have been creatives. My aunt is a classical singer and she tried to be a professional or public singer, but that was not possible four decades ago. When she got married, she kind of had to give up and get into teaching. So, it worked out perfectly, but as a kid I thought that was a defeat to your creativity . . . that you had to focus on your family and take that generous route of being a teacher and give the knowledge about the process rather than making the work itself . . . be the inspiration for many others. . . . I went to art school in India . . . two years earlier than age requirement in other art schools . . . because I wanted to be an artist right away. . . . I met these female seniors, who were slightly older than me, and we were in two different stages in life as I was a teenager and these were women. . . . The way I saw them looking at life I realized I cannot just paint my life away. . . . I’ll end up in same situation that happened to my aunt. . . . So I chose photography and advertising, mediums that will take me outdoors. . . . I convinced myself that if I am in advertising, I can be a career woman and in my free time, I can make my art. So, I get the best of both worlds. As you get closer to these mini goals you create, I think women realize, or used to realize, how difficult that is. The barriers that are put between you and dreams, you can hardly perceive them beforehand.

Meena Mangalvedhekar, Minneapolis Art on Wheels, 2015, installation at the Weisman Art Museum (detail)

Does personal history work its way into your practice? How might who you are be reflected in your current work?

Totally . . . when going to art school in India, you need to take two art exams, elementary and intermediate. . . . Everybody goes through the elementary exam just for kicks, but if you are a serious enough, you take the intermediate. So, you’ll have a hundred kids from a school take the elementary exam and only five will take the intermediate. . . . I applied to the exam as an external candidate and was assigned to a center, which in my case, was an old prison, which was being used as a juvenile detention facility. . . . I went to exam there and I didn’t know what to expect, but you see it and you know. . . . I remember sitting in a small room with stone walls and these giant bars on the windows. . . . There were about ten or fifteen other kids there for the exam . . . and it was a three‐day exam and as we worked, I realized, I’m forgetting where I am. . . . I have no taboo about sitting on this cold floor . . . and I made instant friends. . . . The next day they brought me snacks, and that’s when I realized the power of art. It can make you forget the place and time . . . art can have the power.

Meena Mangalvedhekar, Minneapolis Art on Wheels, 2015, installation at the Weisman Art Museum (detail)

Are there certain ways in which you identify yourself as a feminist artist?

Meena Mangalvedhekar

I think if you are an artist and you are struggling or you are aware of the struggle as women, then I don’t think you cannot be a feminist artist. . . . Feminism is a big umbrella term, with so many elements to it . . . and I practice that in most of the things I do . . . being available to other women entrepreneurs, whether as a friend or helper or volunteer. . . . I want other women to be successful and sustain their progress. . . . I want everybody to have the same thing.


More information available here