An artist and a humanitarian at heart, Maya Jashanmal Lalvani talks about her deep connection with Bahrain and shares her goals for the future.
A tête-à-tête with Maya will warm the cockles of your heart. Her gracious nature captivates you the moment you meet her. Her shock of gray hair is something she wears with pride, saying: “I’ve earned it. Who I was when I was 16 is definitely not who I am at the age of 73. It’s my time to think of what I want to do, not just for myself but the community that I live in.”
Maya was born in Karachi and moved to Bahrain with her parents in 1945, at the age of two. “My earliest memories are of Bahrain – It has been home in my mind forever,” she says. “I grew up here and went to Sacred Heart till I was about 12. At that time, they didn’t have an English high school for girls, so my family sent me off to a boarding school in India.” She returned to Bahrain in 1960 and spent a couple of years working with Jashanmals as an assistant to her father. She recalls one of her memories from those days: “Across the street from the old Jashanmal was Dorabjee, then Novelty Stores, Ashrafs down the street from there and then the post office. So every morning around 10.30, I would go to collect the mail. I would stop at Dorabjee’s – their son was my best friend – and I would have a pineapple juice and a Bounty chocolate bar. I would then go to Novelty and see what kind of new costume jewellery they had. Next stop was Ashrafs, family friends, and I would have coffee with Ellie Khedourie to catch up on the daily news. Finally I would make it to the post office. My father used to say ‘How long does it take for you to get the mail?’
“There was no television, just a few theatres that showed Arabic and Indian movies. As far as I remember it was always about people who you met and knew.”
She’s still in touch with her friends in Bahrain and, although she moved to the US after her marriage, there’s never been a year that she hasn’t returned to visit.
Maya’s artistic journey started when she went to study at JJ School of Art in Mumbai, a few years before she got married and moved to the US. “I found that I really have the soul or spirit of the artist,” she says. However, she didn’t pursue it until after her children were older, when she started teaching drawing and painting for a while.
For the past 10 years, she has made Turkey her home, living in an idyllic little village called Turkbuku. “I think if you’re an artist, you have to have time for yourself; you can’t do art and everything else,” she says. “I have that luxury in Turkey. I have a studio. I paint and I read.”
Maya recently had a solo exhibition in Bahrain at La Fontaine Centre of Contemporary Art, titled ‘Memories’.
“I am fascinated with texture, and acrylics work very well for me. I paint on books, pieces of paper, newspapers, whatever is available. I rarely paint on canvas; it’s on wood and objects – on windows, doors – anything that doesn’t move is a canvas for me.”
She is inspired by the American artist Robert Rauschenberg among others around the world. An avid art collector, some of her prized possessions are paintings from the likes of MF Hussain, Nasreen Mohamedi and Altaf.
Maya is also a great advocate of community work and has been involved in various projects over the years, from opening a non-profit community bookshop in California to co-founding the Bahrain Art Centre. Her latest endeavour is to launch a website, called ‘Connect the Dots’, to give a voice to women who have stayed home but have much to share and contribute. “I want to acknowledge them, reach out and tap into their knowledge – they are unsung heroes,” she explains.
A voracious reader, Maya is also working on a series of short stories for children, collected from various countries, to help them appreciate and understand different aspects of humanity and culture.
Looking to the future, she wants to continue painting and influence relations between Turkey and Bahrain socially – anything that will bring her back to Bahrain.