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Atlanta, August 2012: The announcement about an art exhibition by Atlanta-based Indian-American artist, Meena Rao, on a community website piqued my curiosity and led me to the Pinckneyville Park Community Recreation Center in Norcross, where I was awestruck by the elegant display of about twenty-four paintings comprising a richly varied oeuvre of still life, familiar scenes in India’s rural settings, family portraits, landscapes etc. in oil and acrylic, in the spacious and well-lighted gallery.
After viewing the riveting paintings in hushed silence, I decided to meet with the artist Dr.Meena Rao. She graciously invited me to her home where I met with her and her husband Dr.Vaddadi Rao, who is Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services at the Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta. The Raos live in a cozy stone-walled home with a fishpond near the entrance and a water-pool flanked by sofas and other furniture, inside the sitting-room! The walls have many more paintings of Dr.Meena Rao. It is like stepping into another art-gallery.
Both Raos speak fluent English and Hindi. Meena Rao was born in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India. Meena was bright academically, never losing her top spot in all the examinations she aced. But her strict, disciplinarian father would not allow her to sing or dance or indulge in her passion for art. She immigrated from India to the US in the 1970s. Fostering her education in America, she completed her OB-GYN residency at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. In 1976, she began her twenty-five year-long rewarding OB-GYN practice covering Walton, Barrow and Newton Counties in State of Georgia and later she opened her office in Atlanta also. She later became an assistant professor at Emory University for seven years.
Post retirement, her suppressed desire to paint was too strong to resist, so she enrolled for classes with various artists including Earnest Varner at Pinckneyville Community Center and also at Johns Creek Arts Center. When asked which artist had influenced her the most, she unhesitatingly mentioned classical world-famous painter from Kerala, India, Raja Ravi Varma, whose reproductions of oil paintings and oleographs of famous scenes and characters are found in majority of Indian homes. Meena Rao said she was lucky to find the rare classic with lavishly illustrated book with stunning reproductions interpreted by her, such as ‘Adornment’ and ‘Going for bath”. She showed me some outstanding paintings of Shakuntala; Maharashtrian Lady; Maharani Chimanbai; Sita Vanavas; etc. The other artists she admires are Rembrandt, Monet, Cezanne, etc.
Meena does not have an independent studio as such but prefers to paint at home. Her paintings are not abstract. She prefers impressionism-and likes to reflect the real world in her oil paintings in a harmony of vibrant colors. She likes to paint scenes of traditional rural life which are sadly fading away. Her art can be understood, appreciated, and enjoyed by young and old alike. She has won Awards for her artwork. She won First Place Award from Portrait Society’s Local Chapter for her Portrait and recently won another Award from Johns Creek Arts Center.
Ever so generous Meena Rao has given her Prize-winning paintings for auction and donated the entire proceeds for betterment of her Art-School.
Raos have two children-a son and a daughter, who are professionally qualified, married and well-settled. Meena proudly showed me her paintings of wedded couples.
Besides painting, Meena enjoys gardening and swimming. From the wooden deck she showed me her garden where she grows flowers, fruits (bananas, figs, plums etc.) and vegetables (eggplants, cucumbers, karela (bitter gourd) to name a few. Atlanta Journal Constitution published a glowing article on her Rose Garden with over 300 varieties of roses! Dr.Rao, on the other hand, is an avid reader. He has collected hundreds of books and magazines on varied subjects in his home. Raos are also fortunate in location of their home-on the banks of River Chattahoochee!
Raos lamented that the Indian community lacks interest in art. Very few parents encourage their children to take up art courses or attend Art appreciation classes. Very few bother to visit art exhibitions or art galleries and engage in serious discourse on changing trends in art. And very few homes have attractive paintings in them. There is a widespread misunderstanding that art is only for the rich elite. Paintings are for aesthetic appreciation and not merely for commercial exploitation.
Ms. Rao declares, “I am very grateful for having the art experience. I exhort all the seniors to consider art as a hobby and give it a try in their second innings! It has enriched my life in many ways. To me painting is like meditation. It gives me inner joy. Art is in my heart.”