Successful Non-resident Indian Bengali artist, Malika Garrett, emigrated to the USA to study art in college. Since then she has combined her business experience with her creative passion and helped raise thousands of dollars for charity. OWN Ambassador, Malika, talks to The Asian Destination about collaborating with Deepak Chopra and the Akshaya Patra Foundation. We also discover how Deepak, Mastin Kipp & Oprah Winfrey have helped change her life.
TAD: You grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal in India and went to study in America before becoming the successful artist that you are today. Tell us, when did your love for art start and did you always want to pursue it as a career?
M: My love for art started as far back as I can remember. We are a family of artists, I was always around art and was taught to appreciate it from a very early age. I always loved drawing. I was forever sketching on any paper I could find. My most treasured gifts were pencils, erasers, crayons and markers! I won the class Art prize every year in my school in Kolkata. My grandparents were my first patrons and fans. They encouraged me and even bought my art! I learned service and volunteering through my art; I sold it to my grandparents at age 4 and raised money for Mother Teresa! Since then I have always volunteered and given back.
TAD: Did you ever think you would be an artist?
M: No, I did not ever think I would be an artist. I was leaning towards being a business woman in the corporate world, travelling or saying, ‘Order! Order!’ and being a judge! It’s funny how I ended up being a business woman and an artist. I pursued Art in college but fell into Sales while I was working in advertising at the New York Times.
TAD: What do you miss about India/Kolkata and how important is it to you to maintain a level of Indian culture/tradition in your life?
M:I miss Kolkata and India immensely- I am always going to be Indian and Bengali first. I will never forget where I came from. I owe much of my success and the making of who I am to my childhood in Kolkata. Kolkata has shaped me and made me who I am today. It is very important for me to maintain a high level of ‘Indian-ness’ as I am married to an American and have 2 children whom I want to be a part of their mother’s culture. I am always afraid they will never know their mother’s home or know what it means to be Indian. My husband and I have since birth tried to teach my children about both cultures and encourage them to explore and ask a lot of questions.
TAD: Being a non-resident Indian, sometimes integrating a mixture of traditions and cultures can be a challenge, how do you deal with it?
M: I never really found it to be a challenge, in fact quite the opposite for me, since I was exposed to the world of travel from a very early age. My multiracial children however, epitomize the synthesis of two parent philosophies in a flowing, yin-yang self. They have always known Mum to be Indian and Dad to be American. Their combination of heritage makes them world citizens. In my mind, it makes them wiser too and a lot more tolerant, curious and appreciative of diversity.
TAD: Are there any typically Bengali things you miss now that you are settled in America?
TAD: Would we be right in assuming the inspiration behind most of your art is your time spent living and visiting India?
M:YES! Very much so! My work is mostly about the people of India – their stories , their images of strength, simplicity and courage. My work is about many from India who struggle, yet despite their challenges, are happy people. That is what I try to portray through my work: that despite their challenges their lives maintain a sense of simplicity and beauty in the midst of harsh circumstances. They don’t let their situation get in the way- they make the most of it and go on with life. They have inspired me to survive, despite the many odds I have faced as well.
TAD: Art can be quite subjective, how do you handle criticism and negative comments?
M: I smile and take in everything they say. Each of us is entitled to our own opinion. In many cases they have shown me things in my art work I haven’t seen myself. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity for me – good or bad.
“There are no failures. Just experiences and your reactions to them.” ~Tom Krause
TAD: You are one of several OWN ambassadors. For those that are unaware, please could share what it means to be an OWN ambassador?
M: The role of an OWN Ambassador is to support OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), and have a vision “To Live Your Best life. As an OWN Ambassador you can participate either via Facebook, or Twitter. We participate via Twitter Parties, Tweet Ups, Book Club/Tweet Club. You get to interact with like-minded fellow ambassadors. It’s a positive support system that lifts you up. We are a community of like- minded people having informative conversations everyday and spreading joy and love.
TAD: How did you become involved with Oprah and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)?
M: I met the group on Twitter because of our mutual love of OWN and my conversations with their producers about my personal story. If you would like to become an OWN Ambassador, follow @ownambassadors on Twitter, “Like” us on Facebook, insert #OWNAmbassador in your profile under the Bio section, and on Twitter, use #OWNAmbassadors as the hashtag. It’s that easy! As Oprah mentioned to us and the world, we are the ‘Carriers Of Light’.
TAD: You have worked and come into contact with a variety of prominent people including Oprah, Deepak Chopra and Mastin Kipp. These individuals, amongst many others, are known to all be committed to ‘living their best life’. What have you learnt from working with them that you could share with us?
M: Each one has taught me so many lessons that resonate with me but one that screams out is what Oprah has said over and over again- ‘Life happens not to me, but for me’!– She has really changed my life.
Also Dr. Chopra’s teaching that ‘Holding on to resentment is like holding your breath’– has made me look at forgiveness in a whole new light.
I try to remember every day:
‘We all can receive atonement through service’
‘We are all spiritual beings having a human experience’
‘Vulnerability is the Birthplace of Creativity and Change’– Brene Brown
I have also learnt not to hold myself hostage for my past and that it’s ok to be vulnerable.
As Maya Angelou said to Oprah–
“ When you know better you do better!’
I am SO grateful for all of these wonderful folks you mention and others who have helped me enhance my spirit and not drain my power. Each day they have given me a new breath of life!
TAD: You have recently been involved in a Akshaya Patra (AP) fundraiser – congratulations on its success! Could you tell us a bit about the charity and the event?
M:They are an amazing organization and I am proud and honoured to be a part of them.
Please check out their website and get involved- everyone can make a difference- it only takes $15 to feed one child for one year a hot meal served in school everyday! Founded in 2000, the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mission is that “no child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger” and its next goal is to feed five million children daily by 2020. Currently they are feeding 1 million children every day. The foundation is a strategic intervention in education aimed at breaking the vicious and perpetual cycle of poverty.
TAD: How did you come to be involved in it?
M: My journey with AP started a few months back, in December, while I was in conversation with Dr. Chopra. He happened to mention that he was coming to Atlanta. He invited me to get involved with Akshaya Patra and I was thrilled. I had nothing to give but my creativity. I offered to do a collaborative painting with him for their fundraiser in Atlanta. The event was last week and was a massive success. The event raised over $400 K and my painting brought in $50K. Because of our collective efforts 26,000 children will be fed a hot meal in India. How cool is that?
TAD: This is not the first fundraiser your art has featured in, you also joined forces with Robin Raina in ‘India on Canvas’ where artwork was also auctioned for charity in order to help under-privileged children in India.
As mentioned, the volunteer and service bug bit me at a very early age in Kolkata. I was always wanting to help to give whatever I had to whoever I saw needed something. In addition to raising money for Mother Teresa’s missionaries for charity, I taught classes to the children of the household help. Robin Raina and I partnered together for ‘India on Canvas’ and then with Shashi Tharoor in 2008 for the same charity.
TAD: So, what’s next for you? Will we be seeing more of your art being exhibited soon or featuring in another worthwhile fundraising event soon?
M: No immediate plans- but that can change tomorrow! I am always excited about new collaborations and ventures.There are some smaller ones in the works but none I can name yet.
TAD: How does one get their hands on a Malika Garrett piece? Are they available for shipping?
Malika’s blog: www.malikaghoshgarrett.wordpress.com/
and check out: www.malikaghoshgarrett.wix.com/malikagphotography
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