Lead with empathy and understanding. You may not know the full story of someone who, on the surface, may not seem fitting for your organization’s needs at the time. I urge you to take the time to dig deep and understand intentions and motivation before judging whether or not they’re the right fit to help fulfill the needs called for. You may be surprised at what someone can achieve when equipped with the right tools and a supportive environment.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Radha Mehta.
Radha Mehta is a multimedia artist versed in paintings, film, and music. Her works are born out of the freedom she allows herself to capture — meaningful elements that define one’s soul and essence, resulting in a visual and sound expression of their indelible inner beauty beyond their physical and visual boundaries. Her paintings have been on display at ArtPrize, Orlando Museum of Art, and various galleries across California and Florida. Additionally, her films have screened and won awards at numerous film festivals, and her music has been featured in various television shows for cable networks including E! Entertainment, Vh1, MTV, WE, and Oxygen.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My artistic journey throughout the past two decades involves me having been a singer/songwriter and music composer for a large part of it. However, soon after my son was born in 2016, I quickly realized that it was increasingly difficult for me to make music, let alone any sounds while he’d nap all day. So that’s when I turned to painting and have since fell in love with the medium. It’s such a solitary and meditative practice, and I’ve been fortunate to allow myself the freedom to experiment and explore different styles of art from abstract to portraiture without feeling like I have to fit into a mold or meet any expectations, which I often felt while making music.
My reasons for diving into filmmaking was also initially inspired by the birth of my son. My parents didn’t have the luxury to afford a camera throughout my childhood, so I barely have any photos or videos from that time. I promised my children that the same would not happen to them. I bought myself a good quality camera soon after my son was born and have since been filming and editing footage almost every week while savoring these memories. This practice has inspired me to dive into learning other peoples’ stories, especially those who are underrepresented or underserved, and learn about what gives them hope to keep on. I’ve since gone on to make multimedia documentary films that aim to inspire. With every artistic endeavor of mine, I try to incorporate mediums of music, film and paintings to help tell a story in as 3-dimensional of a manner possible. I find the multimedia experience rewarding, especially in times like now when everything is virtual.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your work?
My most interesting and rather rewarding story since I began to paint is the attention that my most recent memorial portrait series, #SayTheirNames, has been receiving. What started out as a personal meditative session of painting portraits of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd as a way to honor them with moments of silence, has since evolved into a series of 50 paintings of Black lives stolen due to police brutality, and as a result of my extensive research, untold written tributes in their honor.
My work has allowed me to connect with the founder of an organization of a similar name, @saytheirnamesmemorial, Joy Proctor, who has helped facilitate community-driven memorials of Black lives stolen throughout the United States. Their mission aligns with mine in shining a light on the stories of fellow human beings who have unjustly passed away.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The first style of painting I’d experimented with was fluid painting, which involves loads of acrylic paint mixed with water or other softening mediums to make the paint more fluid. I remember the first time I tried; my consistency was way off. My paint mixture became too runny, and I ended up making a huge mess in my garage. Paint leaked from my canvas to the garage floor and made its way to every corner! Upon moving from that home a few years later, I’d noticed the paint stains were still there and I just simply never got around to cleaning them! Those stains provided for good memories of the start of my painting journey. Thankfully, with my preferred medium of watercolor, I can now make a mess any way I want and be able to just wipe it all away with a wet towel and be good to go!
The experience however has taught me to be patient with my craft. With fluid and abstract painting, it takes time to get the right consistency when mixing paint, and it takes a lot of practice to get the effect you want. With watercolor painting, it took me a very long while to arrive at my unique style of portraits. Watercolor paint dries fast, so every paint stroke matters. A paint stroke in the wrong direction, or a paint stroke with either too little or too much water can completely alter the intended effect. Patience is absolutely necessary to my styles of painting.
Can you describe how you are making a significant social impact?
I believe art has the ability to heal especially during times of divisiveness as we all have experienced throughout 2020. I believe we can turn to art as a form of expression as well as a form of therapy.
I turn to art for those reasons — to express my feelings often born out of frustration on the social justice issues that currently pervade us, as well as to heal from any emotional trauma my loved ones and I have experienced around issues very personal to us.
I only know of the impact my art makes based on testimonies personally shared with me.
I’ve been told by many that my art has helped raise a sense of awareness around a particular topic and for that, they will work to change their behaviors and to be more understanding and empathetic. That’s the impact I strive for, one person at a time. One person’s positive change in behavior can have a ripple effect over time. So, my social impact through my art is by paying it forward one person at a time.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I recently had an exhibit in Orlando sponsored by the Downtown Orlando Arts District at the CityArts Gallery. I had the opportunity to speak with an attendee during the opening night for quite a while about the series. I felt enlightened by the conversation as I learned about who she was, what she does (she used to be a track superstar in her community), and her background in music (she now sings for a gospel choir). We exchanged numbers, and the next morning I received the following text which she encouraged me to share publicly:
“Walking into the #SayTheirNames exhibit at Orlando’s City Arts gallery was such an experience. Immediately, I was drawn (pun intended ha) by the colors. Then, I read the stories and actually examined the images. For the first time, art invoked my emotions. The colors brought me from a childlike joy; to distress, reading the reality of the person reflected and finally a calming humility that somehow gave me boldness to get involved. After speaking with Radha and learning the time and detail invested into each individual piece, it was clear: She exemplifies the meaning of being a true artist! Her detail and passion are displayed with every sketch, stroke and flick in this watercolor exhibit. I am a new but true fan of hers and LOVE LOVE LOVE the way she chose to #SayTheirNames”– Kandisa Allicock
Needless to say, I was quite moved by her statement. It’s statements like hers that inspire me to keep creating art on causes and issues I feel so passionate about.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
1. Be more inclusive in your daily actions and in the decisions you make within your respective organizations.
2. Lead with empathy and understanding. You may not know the full story of someone who, on the surface, may not seem fitting for your organization’s needs at the time. I urge you to take the time to dig deep and understand intentions and motivation before judging whether or not they’re the right fit to help fulfill the needs called for. You may be surprised at what someone can achieve when equipped with the right tools and a supportive environment.
3. In the case of anti-racism, it’s not just a one-time declaration. It’s a daily practice and a shift in mindset. Learn more about the plight of the underrepresented and the underserved, and ask yourself — what would you do if you were faced with those same circumstances? It’s this type of understanding that leads to more informed jury members, to stronger policy-makers, and to more inclusive business leaders.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To lead is to show the way. My definition of leadership is to show the way with empathy, understanding, and compassion. I’ve been fortunate to have both male and female mentors in my life, and I’ve noticed that those who are the most successful at what they do tend to lead with their heart and soul while allowing their mind to keep them balanced and in check. The heart and mind go hand-in-hand, but more often than not, leading with heart has a greater impact in moving and inspiring people towards positive change. Movements are started by those who first lead with heart.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Making art in almost any form is quite costly. Be sure to have enough money saved up and plan and budget accordingly. When I first started abstract fluid art, I didn’t realize so much paint was needed and that a lot of canvases would be needed for practice. Had I known, I probably would’ve tried a different less costly medium, like watercolor, from the get-go. One of the main reasons I eventually turned to watercolor was because of how mobile and lightweight the medium is. I’m able to travel with my set anywhere and not have to worry about making a mess!
2. Invest in professional grade quality materials (paint brush, paint, papers) early on. It’ll save you so much time and money in the long run. Sometimes the cost difference for a paint brush, for instance, of a student grade versus professional grade is rather minimal, so always opt for the professional grade. Quality, not quantity, of materials matter. I tried student grade watercolor brushes in the beginning but quickly realized that you get what you pay for. I’d often get some of the paint brush hairs stuck in my paintings, which ended up taking me more time to remove than to paint the painting itself. I now use almost exclusively 2 professional grade paint brushes for all my work, no matter how thick or thin the brush stroke I want.
3. Never stop learning techniques of masters in your own medium, and I encourage you to venture into learning techniques of masters in different mediums. You may feel confident and strong in your particular medium, however, recognize that there’s always room for improvement. I find that learning techniques by masters in other mediums often challenges me to try different styles and techniques in my own medium, and in turn, makes my style a bit more unique.
4. Set your vision and target audience early on. I remember participating in so many art shows and art markets where I’d lug my several easels and displays for art that required many hours to set up, but I barely had any sales. It was largely because I’d been targeting the wrong audience. There’s certainly an audience for everything, so it’s best to take your time early on to define the audience you intend to reach by researching other successful artists in a similar style or medium and try to learn their tactics and audience as ways to pave your course. Investing that time up front will save you so much time, money, and especially heartache later on.
5. Allow yourself patience to experiment and explore until you find a style that is most authentic to you. When I first started, I often tried to mimic other styles I loved and tried to make it my own. However, I was never able to achieve the same effect, and if I did, it never felt original — rightfully so. But, because I allowed myself the freedom to explore and try different methods and was patient with myself in doing so, I was finally able to come across styles that felt the most natural and rewarding to me. I’ll never forget the a-ha moment I had when I created a painting that I absolutely loved. I then thought, “This is it! I can and know how to do this!” I remember how liberating that felt once I found my style of expression.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
A social issue that has been a part of me all my life is women empowerment. I, along with many women, often feel unworthy or a lack of self-esteem especially in environments that are predominantly male. It’s a common phenomenon that has only started to change in recent years as more and more women have taken on leadership roles across various industries and have supported one another in doing so. I desire to use my art and the love language of Words of Affirmation to empower women as a way for them to tap into their full potential. I noticed by lifting and empowering others, I in turn feel lifted and empowered. It’s a positive chain reaction.
Women have incredible powers such as the ability to nurture and heal, as well as the ability to be incredibly productive and resourceful. I feel a movement around empowering women, and a collective awareness that they’re invaluable to our existence, can help us ALL to maximize our full potential in any environment or situation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I am the master of my own destiny.”
This is part of a longer quote my father always shared with me, and it resonates for many reasons.
1. When I accept, I create my own reality. I take more responsibility in making the things I want to actually happen. Not everything may be in my control, but just that sense of responsibility and ownership tends to push the ball forward in a way that positively impacts my life.
2. When I believe anything is possible, I then allow myself to think big and grand…because, why not? If it’s only in my imagination, then who’s to stop me from imagining the seemingly impossible? I’ve noticed that when I throw certain intentions into the universe, the universe has a beautiful way of responding time and time again.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand! She has such incredible grace, class, and an empathetic way in which she leads her country and her people. Her landslide victory in being recently re-elected is a testament that it is possible to do the right thing AND be loved by all.
I’d love to take a page from her book on being a visionary while leading with heart.
My brother, Ravé Mehta, was recently awarded the Edmund Hillary Fellowship (EHF) which is a platform to incubate global impact ventures with New Zealand. My hope is to go to New Zealand with him during one of his visits and hopefully have a chance to somehow meet the Prime Minister!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I may seem old fashioned, but I share the most on my personal Facebook page at FB/radhamehta. I may be limited on accepting friend requests, but if you “follow”, you will be able to see all my public art and film inspired posts, which are a lot!
I can also be found on Instagram at @radhamehta and @radhamehta_art and for this series, @saytheirnames.memorial, on Twitter @radhamehta, and on Facebook at FB/RadhaMehtaArt.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!