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Memories of Changing Worlds Captured in Oils

By Suzanne Sen
August 2012
Memories of Changing Worlds Captured in Oils (left: portion of one of Dr. Meena Rao's paintings titled "To the Market")

Do you have favorite family stories of How It Was When I Was Little that you tell your child or grandchild? Or do you ever wish you'd asked your elders for more such stories when they were around? Such was the inspiration for Dr. Meena Rao's exhibition of paintings at the Pinckneyville Park Community Recreation Center in Norcross from May 25, 2012 to July 30. Paintings of memories of her childhood in India were supplemented with paintings of other people, places, and things in her life.

Meena Rao came from India to the United States in the 1970's and completed her medical residency in Philadelphia. After 25 years of private practice and 7 years as an assistant professor at Emory University, she retired to devote her life to the art world.

Art_MR_CowsCold7124_crop_033.JPG (Cows, Indian and American, figure in some of Dr. Rao's paintings, as in this "Cold Morning.")  

One interesting recurring element in her work is the cow. Although the cow in America does not have the strong religious connection that it has in India, it is still close to the American heart. The cattle of the Wild West are part of our cowboy heritage, and Baby Boomers grew up with the Borden company's Elsie, sweet as an ISKON farm heifer but with the added spunk of a capable American mother.

There is motion and humor in several of her cow paintings. Elsie is ready to wink at you ("Elsie's Eyelashes"), and the cows asking about dinner ("Did You Say Dinner?") have certainly just stretched their necks and pricked their ears and are about to hightail it for home! And how evocative are the delicate colors of the cows curled together on a cold morning!


(left: "Mount Cook, New Zealand" reminds us to remember our favorite adventures.)

The exhibit inspires the viewer to pick up a brush (or pen or camera). How special to paint a portrait of a family member or a view of a favorite vacation spot or to write a story of bygone days or family adventures. If you don't try it, that unique record will never be born, and memories may not be passed on. "Art has enriched my life in many ways," says Dr. Rao, and she has shared her art to inspire us to share our memories.


NOTE: The exhibit may be seen, free, to July 30, 2012.
Mon - Thurs: 10am-9pm, F 10am-4pm, Sat 9am-5pm

Art_MR_ToTheMarket_7130_crop_032.JPG  Art_MR_VegSeller_7132_crop_035.JPG 
 "To the Market" illustrates a way of life that
we here no longer practice.

 "Vegetable Seller" is the centerpiece of
Dr. Meena Rao's exhibit of paintings.



Website Bonus Feature

Article: An introduction to the artist

Meena Rao, an artist par excellence!
By Mahadev Desai

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 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 by 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 U.S. in the 1970s. Furthering 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 Georgia and later opened her office in Atlanta also. She then 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 the 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 the majority of Indian homes. Meena Rao said she was lucky to find his classic book with stunning reproductions of his paintings, such as “Adornment” and “ Going for bath.” She showed me some outstanding paintings of Shakuntala, a Maharashtriyan lady, Maharani Chimanbai, Sita Vanavas, etc. 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. Ever so generous Meena Rao has given her prize-winning paintings for auction and donated the entire proceeds for betterment of her art school.

The Raos have two children, a son and a daughter, who are professionally qualified, married, and well-settled. Meena proudly showed me her paintings of the 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 or bitter gourd, to name a few). The Atlanta Journal Constitution published a glowing article on her rose garden with over 300 varieties of roses near the banks of the Chattahoochee River! Dr. Vaddadi Rao, on the other hand, is an avid reader, with a large collection of books on varied subjects.

The Raos lamented that the Indian community lacks much 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.”


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