It is a nondescript salon tucked away in a strip mall on the long stretch of El Camino Real. You may have even passed it on your way to the various Indian restaurants that litter the Mountain View/Sunnyvale corridor. Inside, stations are set up for manicures, pedicures and haircuts, just your everyday beauty parlor offerings.
But just a glance at the walls will tell you that this is no ordinary shop. One wall has a cubist rendering of a reclining woman. On another, the liquid eyes of a young couple stare out from a pair of paintings. An easel on the corner has a painting embellished in gold flakes.
This is the Spoil-Me Salon, home to artist Tanya Momi whose nimble fingers are equally adept at threading eyebrows and wielding the paintbrush. Hers is a remarkable story. Born to an intellectual family in Chandigarh, the shy Tanya found expression in art, showing an early talent. She did her studies in the field and participated in several competitions, winning prizes and acclaim. She became a docent at the Chandigarh art gallery, happy to spend her leisure surrounded by the works of masters.
Her family found her a match in the US and that’s when the long nightmare began. Rigid and orthodox, her in-laws refused to allow her to pursue her passion, treating her like an “educated maid”, in Tanya’s own words. She took on the role of a dutiful wife and mother, sublimating her passion and desires for nearly 2 dozen years. She was not allowed to make friends, to drive or to step out of the house to shop. After several years a kind neighbor suggested to her that she might want to take a short course and become a manicurist. When the in-laws were convinced that she could bring in a decent income, they consented. Tanya jumped at the opportunity. “Painting is painting,” she reasoned. “So what if it is on nails instead of canvases.” Soon she had a huge list of clients among whom she made many dear friends.
When the evidence of abuse at home became evident, her friends gave her the courage to break out of her prison. With the help and support of friends and parents, Tanya finally separated from her abusive relationship and started out on her own. Clients donated easels and paints and encouraged her to go back to her first love, painting.
The Spoil-Me Salon is in the process of renovation, but I took a tour of Tanya’s works, currently stored in an anteroom at the salon. The repressed passion of 2 decades bursts out of every painting. Vivid and earthy, each painting has a message. After her divorce, Tanya was shunned by the women of her own community and propositioned by the men and the pain of those encounters is captured on many canvases. A beautiful one called “Circle of trust” is a poignant reminder of the support that only women can give other women. An extra long canvas called “Everytown and Country Therapy Sessions” questions why therapy should not be more easily available for the many wounded souls our modern lifestyle creates. Many paintings display cherished passages from the Guru Granth Sahib, whose inclusive messages are a balm to Tanya’s heart.
It’s been only 2 years since Tanya resumed painting, but she has over 200 paintings to show for it. She works like a woman possessed, sometimes painting up to 8 hours a day till her fingers cramp. She experiments with many styles from cubism to impressionism to portraits on commission. Her paintings have been featured in many international tours. One set of paintings is currently traveling with Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women Art Exhibit.
Tanya Momi rebuilt her life after a traumatic marriage and divorce and in her own quiet way she helps other women do the same. “Women come into my life through the salon,” she says. “They are like the missing puzzle pieces of my life.” Through her work in the salon and her paintings she reaches out to offer comforting messages of hope and renewal. This Muy Thai kickboxing enthusiast has a full plate – working full time, painting full time and enjoying every moment of her busy life. “Don’t complain,don’t explain, just do something,” says the irrepressible Tanya Momi.
More information on Tanya can be found at www.tanyamomi.com. She would love to be contacted at email@example.com. And do step in Spoil-Me Salon if you feel the need for a little pampering.
Tanya will also feature in a panel discussion in a segment on “Following Your Bliss” organized by Narika in a South Asian Women’s Conference on March 21st, 2009.
Great article. Great work. Congratulations Tanya-momi. You are encouragement for other artists. I know there are many artists around including me who are not able to continue the paintings as they are too busy with their other work. My family reminds me about my paintings and encourage me to start painting again, still I am not able to start – now after reading about Tanya-momi I will start painting. You have to make the time to finish your unfinished paintings – no excuses. God has given every one 24 hours – so let us take out our brushes and colors and start painting. Take out your paintings – put on the wall look at them every day, it will be a reminder for you. As my brother says, “take out half an hour every day for painting it will give great results.”
Tanya’s story got me thinking. If one were to trace the history of women’s art, wouldn’t one find a body of work that was done purely as therapy? It might be interesting to find out how this particular phase of the artist’s work differs from the other paintings she might have done before or after.
This is really an inspiring story. For every Tanya who succeeded in escaping fom her situation, there must be many others who are still confined and stifled. It is really sad how Indian families still maintain age-old prejudices and practise torture disguised as tradition.
Well said, Viswanathan! And we never tire of boasting about Indian “culture”!
Applaud Tanya’s courage to change her life.
>>For every Tanya who succeeded in escaping fom her situation, there must be many >>others who are still confined and stifled.
Ever wondered why so many do not wish to change their situation? They continue to live by sheer faith that one day the one person who should be supporting her (the spouse) will stand up for her? Maybe there are children too young to deal with divorce . Maybe they are afraid of losing their children in the process. Maybe they just do not have the support from their parents. Maybe they have been isolated too long to be able to look up to anyone for any kind of support. It is appalling that many of these “in-laws” are well educated , highly placed individuals.
Congratulations Tanya – you ARE a great artist! The art work you have done on my nails – I will never forget. XO
Congratulations gutsy Tanya! Good for you. I realised that you had some help in addition to the strong desire to help yourself. You had the means too. Some unlucky Desi women are not so lucky. Some do not even differentiate right from wrong. That’s where we come in. Us, the women who know inside out should form a group and write some articles about (our) social issues. Maybe, we can bring in the ‘husbands and wives together’ to attend live meetings. Maybe we should talk to our children and keep them informed. The Q. is: how can we do all this?
2 decades and a come back wow that is an amazing achievement. Keep going.
Tanya, bravo! Keep painting. I will visit you soon at your salon. To get my painterly soul inspired along with the outside.