Whitesboro, New York / United States
We are proud to introduce Melanie Kambhampati - a visual artist from Whitesboro, New York, who builds her work around the body and femininity.
Melanie, you were born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania and graduated from Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania in 2007 with a degree in Studio Art. What was your journey into art (brief bio/history/backstory)?
Like a lot of artists, I don't remember a time when I wasn't coloring, sketching, and creating. I didn't start thinking about art as a career until high school. I was shocked my parents allowed me to major in art in college. I was originally a graphic design major but changed to painting after my first painting class with Betsey Batchelor. She gave me the confidence and courage to create for myself. I learned quickly that texture held a tremendous interest for me.
When you finished your studies, you worked as a gallery assistant but decided to take a different career. You became a Registered Nurse in 2011 and worked as an ER nurse in Pennsylvania and New York State. That is a very different career path. What inspired you to switch from art to a medical position?
Since college, my art has been centered around my own medical journey as a patient. Going into nursing felt like a natural transition. I was already studying anatomy for my artwork and it had interested me for as long as I could remember. Nursing is an art, as is medicine. It allowed me to channel my focus onto other people and offered me a concrete strategy to help others.
You said that working as a nurse drained you emotionally and mentally so that you barely sketched any more. What was the trigger for you to leave this job and come back to creating?
The opportunity to leave my job came when my son was born. My husband and I made the decision for me to stay home to raise him. It was in the random free moments that I found time to start painting again. If I hadn't become a stay at home mother, then I am not sure I would have ever found an avenue to creating art full time.
You have also experienced some health problems and they inspire your current art practice. Could you tell us more about that and what did you learn about yourself and your art through this experience?
I had a few surgeries when I was in high school including neurosurgery. Those experiences took a toll on my mental health and making art became a way for me to work through all those emotions; a path to decompress from increasing anxiety.
How did you feel about motherhood in the past, and how do you feel about it now?
I had a strong desire to be a mother since my late twenties. I was working in pediatrics for a few years and each and every child I cared for would increase that desire even more. I had multiple coworkers tell me that I had extreme baby fever so I was overjoyed to learn I was pregnant. I see mothers as people who can do a million things at once and they have the greatest appoint of patience on this earth. It has made me grow as a person and love in ways I never thought possible.
What is the message behind your art?
My work is an exploration of illness, and the time afterward, a time of healing juxtaposed with anxiety. My recent experiences as a mother have led me to meditate on motherhood, femininity, and disease. In the last few years, I have experienced the growth of a child as well as the growth of multiple uterine fibroids, new life surrounded by the invasion of the aggressive and strange tissue. I use materials associated with a history in craft, decoration, and home insulation. These pieces began as a way of merging the visceral with ornamentation but developed into a conversation about the body and how it can still be seen as feminine while made faulty by disease. My past experiences as a patient, as well as my role as a registered nurse, inform my practice.
What does your art do for you?
My art is my sanity. It gives me purpose outside of my life as a mother. I tend to my son's needs for most of the day, but nap time is my art and exercise time. It helps me manage my anxiety and gives me something to look forward to in the next day, which has proven to be invaluable during the COVID-19 era. All the days feel like the same day full of repetition. My moments in the studio are dramatic and engrossing compared to the routines of a toddler.
What are your plans for the future (career, parenting etc.)?
Right now, I am in survival mode. My husband is a frontline healthcare worker and has been working non-stop so my time for art has been on the back burner most days. I started to experiment with mold making and sculpture and then our area's cover numbers skyrocketed. My husband has just completed his COVID-19 vaccine so have a bright spot in the future.
What advice do you have for fellow art mums?
Find the little moments and just make something, even if it is just a small doodle. Be kind to yourself. It's ok if you don't have time for your art. I will always remember what a professor said to us while in college, "Just because you haven't painted doesn't mean you aren't thinking about painting." Also, find other moms. My fellow mom friends have been my lifelines in every moment when I'm unsure or just need some understanding.