Visual art is not just an “art”, a subject learnt in primary school, or even a university course that one can enroll in if one’s interested. It is everywhere, from paintings in one’s bedroom to graffiti on the city buildings. I’ve always been in awe of people who can draw and paint. However, to be able to capture life, and represent it creatively on a white canvas, is a talent that not everyone can master.
Everyone can give drawing a try, but it takes talent, motivation and support to be able to bring visual art to the next level. I had a fantastic opportunity to interview one of Malaysia’s outstanding visual artists, Mona KV. Seeing her artwork and achievements in life, I thought to myself, “What an inspiration to behold!”
Before the interview session started, I prepared myself with information about her. I went to her site, read a few articles about her, and watched the YouTube video she was featured in, in conjunction with Women’s Day, to talk about her life journey as an Indian female visual artist in Malaysia.
Mona KV’s achievements started when she was listed as a finalist for the Malaysian Emerging Artist Award in 2009; following that, the Malaysia Young Contemporaries Award by National Art Gallery in 2010.
Mona continues to be listed as a finalist for the Starhill Gallery Visual Art Awards in 2010, and just recently she won the Gold Excellence Award 2022 from India. It didn’t stop there, though. Her artworks have also been exhibited overseas, in India, Indonesia, Italy, the USA, Bangladesh and Thailand.
Meet Mona KV!
Mohana Kumara Velu, also known as Mona KV, was born in Johor Bharu and raised in Kuala Lumpur. As someone in the art stream, I know how challenging it can be to pursue art, especially when there is a lack of support.
However, it was different for Mona. Mona explained how she was blessed to have supportive family members rooting for her and her passion at the tender age of five. To note, it was her grandfather who recognised Mona’s talent in art at the age of 3, as she knew her colours really well. Since then, she has been actively practising art for 14 years.
When she mentioned that, it piqued my interest to find out if she had the epiphany to pursue visual art at some point in her life. As per my understanding, some people only realise their talent or have had an epiphany about what they want to do, but only later in their life.
“I knew all along that I wanted to be an artist,” she told me. “Do you remember when we had to fill up the career form in primary school, where we had to choose three occupations of what we wanted to be when we grew up? From Standard 1 to 6, it was always an artist first.”
Mona then says how her father used to bring her to the central market when she was younger, where she’ll see all the artworks and crafts for sale. From then on, her perspective widened, and that’s when she knew she wanted to pursue visual art as a career path in the future.
Inspirations and Supporters Throughout Her Career As A Visual Artist
When asked about her motivations, I assumed it would be someone or something that might have given her most of the ideas for her painting and artworks. However, she said that most of her inspiration comes from incidents or stories from people and things around her.
Interestingly, she doesn’t immediately transfer all those on the canvas, but she did it with a twist. Whatever she captures from her own perspective, she ensures that it is represented well on the canvas.
“I’d say that most of my artworks in recent years are focused on reflective paints. I enjoy seeing the look on people’s faces when they look at my artwork, or when people DMed me through Instagram about my artworks.” Mona explained.
“I will then ask them what they think of it. It’s somehow exciting to hear the audiences’ responses, especially when their responses got me to ponder about the painting as well.” She added.
Indeed, I thought. To be able to slow down and enjoy a beautiful painting after a busy day struggling to make ends meet sounds like the perfect evening for any active person anywhere they might be. Mona’s compliments and responses in her DMs or during her exhibition feed her passion and motivation to continue painting.
On the other hand, I mentioned how her family members had played an active role in supporting her throughout her life, including her close friends. I further asked if there were other supporters besides them, and she mentioned two: Maamor Jantan and the late Jeganathan Ramachandram.
She further explained that they are different kinds of support that push her out of her comfort zone and guide her to pave her own path as the visual artist she strives to be.
About Mona KV’s art!
Personal style. People have their own unique styles, depending on what they do in their life. It could be a private outfit combination or a distinct style in how they write. So naturally, I was curious to know at what point in Mona’s life she discovered her painting style. She stated that she somehow found her style in her early 20s.
Finding out her personal style was primarily lots of trial and error to see what works and brings more elements to the arts. “Finding my style is an ongoing process,” she added. I agree. Life is an ongoing process, and so is finding one’s style and identity in the things they do or represent.
Most of her art focuses on two things: human figures and storytelling. Mona added on by saying how symbolism and surrealism have played an important role and influence in her art style. Through these art styles, Mona captures the essence of being human, at the same time relating it with things that are happening around us. In her own unique way, her stories come to life through these artworks and paintings.
Upon saying that, I continued asking if all of her artworks hold meaning. She nodded and explained that she wants people to make their own reflections of their life when looking at her paintings. Paintings that she drew without prior meaning, on the other hand, eventually ended up having one. “Where does the meaning come from?” I asked.
“Either from people or me. Like sometimes, I would draw art on a whim, it would take some time for someone to point out the meaning behind it (despite having no initial meaning in the first place), or I would have someone look at it and ponder about the meaning myself.”
Traditional And Digital Art
Noticing that she spends most of her time doing traditional artwork, I was curious to know how she has adapted to digital art. It is mentioned that she struggled at first, but she fell in love with it and continued exploring digital art in time.
“I mean, eventually, we must adapt to it at some point, right? At the end of the day, art is art, no matter what medium or canvas you use to paint on. I eventually did a project with POS Malaysia, and it was entirely digital.” Mona explained.
I nodded immediately upon her mentioning the POS Malaysia project, as I remembered looking it up before the interview session started. I then asked what it is about traditional art she loves most compared to digital art. She immediately replied, saying,
“Painting itself, no matter the tools, is very meditative. It’s like having a conversation with a friend – every brush stroke, every detail needed for the art. I like taking my time to embrace art and be fascinated by it. It feels like I’m out with my friend for a cup of coffee.”Mona KV
Biggest Highlight In MonaKV’s Career
“Let me tell you this: To this day, I’m still starstruck by it. I can never get over it, even if I try.” She confesses, grinning from ear to ear as if that memory happened yesterday.
In short, she presented her own painting to A.R. Rahman, who is a world-renowned Oscar Winning music composer! He was in awe of her artwork – wait for it – and then decided to hang one of her paintings in his studio. IN HIS STUDIO. I gasped with excitement, too, as I would pass out if I were to be allowed to present some of my creative work to my favourite artists.
“That is WILD, oh my God,” I exclaimed, laughing and smiling ecstatically along with her.
“I know! That’s one memory I will continue to cherish because it’s not like you get this opportunity often in your lifetime.” Mona replied.
Before wrapping the interview session up, I asked her if she could share anything about any latest projects that she is currently working on. However, it is confidential for now, but all I could get out from her at that moment was: yes, she is currently working on a few projects. That said, we ended the interview with best wishes and thanked each other for a beautiful time getting to know most about her and her journey as a visual artist.
Being a woman in the art industry is challenging. Even Mona agreed to that. However, it is not impossible. Mona and I decided that we hoped to see more rising artists in our beloved country, especially among young girls and women, regardless of race or background.
We need more influential artists like this, I believe. It’s already tricky enough living in such a fast-paced world and with the same mundane working routine, no less. But, to give hope and spread awareness through art or any creative platform, one needs to continue looking forward in life.
So, if you are as curious as me to find out more about our amazing visual artist, Mona KV, do check out her Instagram account, @monakv.art, as she is more active there than on Facebook. Feel free to express your opinions about her art, or give your time to reflect on yourself through her art while you’re scrolling through her profile. Also, don’t be afraid to DM her about your opinions or meanings that you find in her artworks that touch you the most. I’m sure she’ll be delighted to know more about what you think about it.