When her mother’s henna design became too repetitive, Orono artist Shakun Maheshwari decided to design her own and used the end of a match stick to slowly apply the designs when she was 10-years old.
Growing up in India, Maheshwari learned how to make many different things from her mother and the other women who would gather together. Today, she is still focused on her art and is showing her first customized sculptural painting at Lake McCarrons County Park as part of the Roseville in Bloom project.
“At that time there was no T.V., No radios when I was born. The ladies used to get together, they used to sing, they used to put henna and sometimes they used to get together to cook for weddings and any event. Sometimes they would make dresses and designs, so I learned quite a bit from them,” Maheshwari said.
The Roseville in Bloom 20 in 2020 project features 20 roses and is the first public art event the city of Roseville has hosted. Maheshwari’s piece is the first public art piece for the Rice and Larpenteur Alliance, a community organization that focuses on the Rice and Larpenteur neighborhood.
“It touches St. Paul, Roseville and Maplewood. There’s quite a diverse community around here and they want to make it reflective of the cultures that are here. Maheshwari’s art is right [in the park] and they want to have art all up and down the Rice/Larpenteur area,” Visit Roseville CEO Julie Wearn said.
The remaining 19 customized roses are scattered throughout the city of Roseville. A map of where each rose is located is available on the Visit Roseville website. The roses are set up so people can social distance while viewing them. Maheshwari’s design sits in the open and has a view of the lake for visitors to take in as well. The rose features bright colors, henna design and hidden elements for viewers to find.
The henna design became an important element in the rose because it shows Maheshwari’s background and culture. Even though Maheshwari decided to design her own patterns, learning how to do it took time and patience.
There wasn’t a tool for henna when Maheshwari was growing up, so she learned by using the end of a matchstick, like her mother and the other women would do. Maheshwari wanted new designs, so she created them. Art was encouraged in her house; however Maheshwari wasn’t always planning on becoming an artist and teacher.
“I wanted to become a doctor. In India, if you want to be a doctor or you want to take a science subject, you cannot take art because there are not enough hours to take it. I used to pass the art studios and classes to see what they were doing. I used to start copying them,” Maheshwari said.
Art was Maheshwari’s love from the beginning, and when she came to America with her husband, Maheshwari started volunteer teaching and displaying her work at shows. Maheshwari’s first show was in Chicago and she sold three paintings.
“It was so exciting,” she said.
From then, Maheshwari started making connections within the art community, moved to Minnesota from Eau Claire, and studied graphic design at Northern Hennepin Community College. Being involved in the art community and also bringing the community together with art is a main focus of Maheshwari’s.
“Art is the best way to learn about any culture because there is no fear... you like it or you don’t like it,” she said.
When designing her rose, Maheshwari knew she wanted to show off bright colors as a way of displaying how different cultures come together through art. Adding henna was suggested by Maheshwari’s daughter as a way to show Maheshwari’s background, which is how the title of her rose, “Color and Culture”, came to be.
The hidden elements incorporated include India’s national bird, the peacock; a butterfly, elephant, a snake, and a fish; and the lotus flower. Maheshwari and her daughter spent approximately 100 hours collectively painting the rose.
“All different communities have to come together. We learn from each other. That’s why I have the color mixed together. That’s why I used only one black color for the design so it’s all connected,” she said.