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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.