Monday, June 22, 2009

Featured Artist: Karen Meninno


Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

I am Karen Meninno a.k.a. Kiran and I am a sculptor. I was born in New Delhi, India and raised in London, UK where I earned a Bachelor of Science in I.T.

I moved to Boston, US in 1997 and since then have worked towards establishing an art career. Initially, I studied courses in interior design and fashion design before embarking on a B.F.A. at MassArt in Sculpture.

After graduating I became a member of the artist co-operative gallery, Kingston Gallery in Boston’s SoWa district. I am based in the suburbs where I have a studio. When I am not making art, I am decorating my new house or gardening.

How did you get interested in making art? What kind of job(s) do you do besides creating art?

I was first interested in art when I was 9 years old and did a portrait of my friend. When Princess Diana got married I designed hundreds of wedding gowns for her.

When I went to secondary school, I was “encouraged” to take the science path in order to become a doctor. I sabotaged my chances of going to dental school and had to find another lucrative field, hence I studied computers but found it was a bad fit after several jobs in the field. After immigrating to the United States, I had the opportunity to fulfill my life-long wishes of being in the creative field.

Do you teach, write, curate shows, and/or manage a gallery? If so, give us some details?

I do not teach art as I have only been a practicing artist for 4 years and have not had enough experience to teach art.

Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

I make jewelry and have had my jewelry sold at the DeCordova Museum store recently. At Kingston Gallery, I help in the running of the gallery as all members do and I am responsible for marketing and the website.

Please tell us a bit about your work in general. What media do you work in? How would you describe your work to first time viewers? Would you share with our readers some of your thoughts and inspirations about your creations?

My main body of work is soft sculpture where I use Indian sari materials, threads, beads to create abstract figural sculptures. The themes investigate issues of culture, identity, alienation, ambiguity, and the concept of home.

Bound Sari Woman, Mixed Media Sculpture, 33 x 14 x 6", 2004.
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

My work is driven by the action of wrapping and binding where material has been cut up, torn, stitched, knotted, wrapped, beaded and pinned to form soft sculptures. There is repetition of traditional thread-wrapping, ornament and controlled binding.

Foreground: Stacked Cities, Mixed Media sculpture, 56"x15"x15”, 2008
Background: Part of Baroque II Drawing installation, Mixed Media, Dimensions vary, 2008.
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

I was brought up to believe that the Indian feminine ideal is to be beautiful but in so being, the traditional dress can become restrictive – a universal dilemma for women.

Hairbuns, Mixed Media Sculpture, 34 x 39 x 25, 2006
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

I enjoy the physicality of manipulating materials in an obsessive way which is a circular motion that goes away from me and comes back to me. This acts as a metaphor for being simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by the Indian culture.

Gallery view of “Mapping Indaly” solo show at Kingston Gallery, June 2008. Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

As part of my solo show at Kingston Gallery in 2008, I formed my own imaginary country Indaly which investigates the concept of countries and citizenship in an aesthetic manner. I made several sculptures and a large drawing installation that represented the mapping of my new country.

Promised Land, Mixed Media sculpture, 63"x27"x15”, 2008
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

I love my creations; I nurture them and hope they represent that part of me that cannot deal with being a displaced Indian woman. I have never visited India since I was born there so this work is particularly poignant for me.

Please explain a bit about your creative process. How does it all start, what techniques and materials do you use? Where do you look for your materials? How long does it take to make a piece of sculpture (please give us an example)?

As a sculptor, I do not work in a traditional way. I do not plan my sculptures or make drawings/plans of them beforehand.

Fuzzy Metropolis. Mixed Media Drawing Installation, Dimensions can vary, 2008
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

I usually get my materials from the local craft store and sometimes the hardware store.
I look for flashy, gaudy textiles and beads and have a particular color palette of black, gold, silver, turquoise, fuchsia pink, cobalt blue, orange, red and other accent colors.

Salwar Kameez, Mixed Media Sculpture, 53 x 22 x 16”, 2007
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

Typically, a 3-4 ft sculpture would take 2-3 months to make as it is very labor-intensive and requires many layers of building.

I start with an armature like a skeleton (wood) and add foam and batting, forming the shape with the use of string and duct tape. The next layer is a stretchy black knit material that is hand-sewn over the form.

Then, the final dressy layer of sari material is hand-stitched onto the black material with beads and thread. This is my favorite part. Very intuitive and as the final layer is formed, the piece will tell me what it needs to be completed.

What is the most interesting comment about your work you have heard from a viewer?

“Umm, what is this?”

Could you talk a bit about your solo show "Confections of a Baroque Mind" that will be held at Kingston Gallery? Tell us the exhibitions dates, when the reception will be held?

Detail of Baroque Confections installation, FIMO oven-baked clay, Dimensions vary of each mini-sculpture, 2009. Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

This new body of work is a smaller solo show in the Center Gallery at Kingston and is a change of medium: oven-baked FIMO clay. The exhibition dates is July 1 – August 1, 2009. The opening reception has been scheduled for Friday July 10th, 5:30-8:00 pm.

Could you give us some insight into this new body of work, how did you come up with the theme? What is the message you want to convey to viewers?

The show is inspired by my baroque sensibilities and an appreciation for visual complexity and form. It is also a consequence of the current economic climate where I simply cannot afford to spend several thousands of dollars on putting on a show. This show is less of a financial outlay but will still pack the same visual punch of my other work. Much like fashion designers will produce fanciful designs during a recession, so I am working within my limitations to still provide the viewer with my point of view.

How have you handled the business side of being an artist?

Poorly, as I don’t really consider myself a business person, just an artist. However, I do my best and could do more such as have my own website or apply for grants, instead of funding my art career myself.

I wish that I had help in marketing my work but would probably have to pay for it. I often wonder why the peripheral people in art seem to make the money, and not the artists themselves. Actually, I pay to be an artist for very little return! Guess, I should call it voluntary community service.

Arranged Bride, Mixed Media sculpture, 20 x 17 x 14", 2004.
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

Are you planning any exhibitions of your work in the near future?

I am planning for a couple of group shows for 2010. One is at Concord Art Association in the spring, “Small Obsessions” where I will continue to work with my mini-sculpture theme. The other is slated for July 2010 at ArtSpace-Maynard, “Sci-Fi Worlds and Surreal Creatures” where I can let loose on an installation of aliens and weird stuff. Both exciting.

Cobalt woman, Mixed Media sculpture, 35"x26"x35”, 2008
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

Please provide links to reviews and online web presence about your work.

For my “Mapping Indaly” solo show in June 2008, I got a review by Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe.

ArtWorks! probes the immigrant experience in exhibit opening June 1

Distant Shores: Culture Exchange in Contemporary Art

Asian Arts Festival - "Asian Legacy: Asian-American Artists Respond"

REPETITION – negotiating the irrationalities exhibit at artSPACE@16

Hyde Park Open Studios

Would you please provide readers with your contact information?

I have an artist profile page on and you can email me at

Are you available for commissioned works?

Absolutely, I am available for commissioned pieces: sculpture, drawing, digital art, installation, jewelry.

BejewelledCity, Digital Print, Dimensions can vary, 2008
Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

Representing gallery if any?

Currently, I am a dues-paying member of a co-operative gallery but would welcome further representation.

Would you like to add anything?

A picture of me in my studio. Image courtesy of Karen Meninno.

I wish it was enough to be an artist and make a living through art-making. I don’t believe that I should have to teach or have minimum-wage jobs to support my art but that is the reality that many artists face, especially during a recession. I believe it is a vital public service and should be partially funded by the State and Federal governments. I am old-fashioned that way and say “Bollocks!” to all the multi-tasking that has pervaded the art world as it dilutes the art.