with heart and soul: my mother, the artist

The cobblestone pathway lined with neatly trimmed hedges maneuvers in a curve leading up to the coral-painted door, complete with a “welcome” sign that greets the viewer. Upon first glance, the tiny structure in the midst of a well maintained, tree-lined backyard doesn’t look like much — but within it lies an array of shelves containing paints and beads and threads, unfinished canvases propped up against walls, and the unmistakable aura of sophistication speaking to the artist herself. Matina Shakir is seated at the workstation, an L-shaped table scattered with rulers and stencils; engrossed in her latest project — an interior design assignment for her university, where she recently enrolled to complete her degree in the Arts.

Her pencil moves rhythmically across the page in a dance only she seems to know, and her forehead is creased with intense concentration. A cool breeze drifts in through the open window of the studio, and the chirping of the evening birds combined with the golden sunlight makes for a relaxed atmosphere for one to leave behind the woes of the world and feel inspired. A chalkboard on the side of the room reads, “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”

As dusk begins to settle in, Matina makes her way back to her home in time for dinner with her husband and three teenaged children. The systematic routine of fulfilling household duties and college-related responsibilities doesn’t seem to hinder her passion for her work — if anything, she insists, she is more dedicated at this stage in her life than when her children were younger and required her constant attention.

Prior to starting a family, Matina showcased her early work — both paintings and handmade garments — in her hometown of Bangalore, India. Family and societal pressures of marriage and expectations of women in the mainstream culture put her dreams of success as an emerging talent on hold. Her professional work became a hobby when she moved with her husband to the States in the early 2000s, and caring for her little girls and soon to be born son became her full-time job. Still, the love she possessed for art did not die out among the chaos — her spare time was well utilized in making and selling unique handmade fusion jewelry, clothes, and home decor; which she gained recognition for in local art shows and bazaars. It is certainly no easy task to put one’s ambitions aside to give something else the utmost importance, but Matina did so with undeniable grace — “At one point, I did have regrets. It’s only human to feel that way, but at the end of it, I truly believe that life had something better in store for me.”

As fate would have it, time was served on a platter when her children grew up and became independent; and Matina decided to make the most of it when she applied to the online Bachelor of Interior Design program at the RCC Institute of Technology at Yorkville University, based in Canada. This was almost unheard of in her culture back home — a mother of three going back to school — but she did not let that become an obstacle that prevented her from seizing her second chance. Her appreciation for the aesthetics (evident from the great attention paid to detail in her beautifully coordinated home to her wardrobe taste), combined with the acknowledgment of the scope and potential of the field; played vital roles in her ultimate decision to go back to college and obtain her degree. Describing her feelings on the matter, Matina says, “I’m content now with the fact that I’m able to reach out for my dreams, and I’m getting the opportunity to do so. But there’s definitely a lot more left to do, so I’m not yet at that point of fulfillment. I am happy, though, that I’m finally working toward something bigger.”

The late nights spent completing projects for design-related courses speaks volumes about Matina’s dedication and professionalism with which she approaches her work. She sees her field as something that serves a higher purpose than initially meets the eye — “Interior design can be about enriching people’s lives by bringing sustainable products into their homes …so you’re ultimately contributing to the health and well-being of society, which I think is a noble cause to be involved in.”

As with any amateur artist, the decision to make a living out of their passion does not come without doubts. There is often the concern of where a career in the arts will lead given the competitiveness of the industry; as well as the issue of making enough money to survive and provide for yourself and others. Matina was no stranger to these apprehensions, but refrained from giving into them as she realized that art was what she was born to do — it was and always had been her true calling. She was never the type of person that’d enjoy working a 9-5 job behind a desk in a dingy office; whatever she did had to bring her creative satisfaction. As she so eloquently phrases it, “A creative person especially cannot be tied down to something that is monotonous, where they aren’t able to give it their best. Your work has to bring you joy, and I think that stands true for everyone.”

When asked where she receives her inspiration, Matina responds without a moment’s hesitation: nature. With an eye for finding beauty in the ordinary, she believes that“nature is our best teacher and our biggest mentor.” The seasonal change of colors, the perfection in every leaf and flower, and the uniqueness of every sunrise and sunset — these all feed into her love for the soft and romantic aspect of art; the feminine touch that is captured in all her work. This is acknowledged by every friend, client, and family member who all seem to agree that her unique personality and sense of style is always reflected in her art and designs. Her love for nature is also the reason behind her studio’s location — a kind of sanctuary within her own backyard, overlooking a vast expanse of trees and the endless blue sky.

A steaming cup of tea in her hand, Matina returns to the serenity of the outdoors to reflect on how far she’s come and how far she’s hoping to go. She speaks openly and vulnerably about life’s trials and tribulations, the opportunities for reconstructing yourself that come with those struggles, and the importance of finding contentment in all of your endeavors. Wisdom and hope cling to her words as she paints a picture of her future, wherein she is an artist who is not only recognized for her creations but is remembered as someone who put her heart and soul into everything that she did.

Simra MariamComment