- Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset for 19 days. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
I have long admired the detailed and mesmerizing work of Meleyna Bighorn. I was over-the-moon excited when she agreed to tell us about her creative process, who has guided her artistic endeavours, and her thoughts on how art can serve humanity. Before we get to Meleyna’s answers, please enjoy this small gallery of her exquisite work. It opens with a piece that was exhibited at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights as part of the Our Story Is One campaign which commemorates the 40th anniversary of the execution of ten Baha’i women in Shiraz. This campaign honours those women, as well as the long struggle for gender equality lived by women of all faiths and backgrounds in Iran which continues to this day.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
As a child there was an abundance of natural beauty. Growing up in Cyprus surrounded by beauty and later in life when there wasn’t, I would challenge myself to find the beauty that couldn’t be seen. This is how I choose to walk through my days. Investigating each day to find the beauty and qualities of our Creator in any space and being. Admittedly finding beauty and meaning in life isn’t very hard when raising four children with my beloved husband Jordan.
Could you please tell us a little about your art?
It is a metaphorical weaving of art from generations of ancestors. My baba Fotini Zografou who would embroider intricate patterns by the open window; my father Alex Zografov, who had a bird sing by his crib as an infant, filled our home with a love story of musical notes for Baha’u’llah’s message to humanity; my Mother Mary Zografov who nurtured in me the love of all things both crafty and otherwise; my sister Miranda Santolini whose delicate hands create such precision, humility and beauty which inspire me to work harder. To my little ones whose magical creations fill my soul. We carry each other in a tapestry of past and present expressions of our existence as a family.
What inspires you to create?
My family across Canada, Greece, Bulgaria, England and the United States whose footsteps I treasure and often ponder on with inspiration, the gardens of my neighbourhood, the plants and trees that appear every spring with new buds, the snow that glistens and twinkles for months, the neighbours who have become my grandparents, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. The friends who reach across the seas and the loved ones who have traversed this world to the next coming together in unity. Reflecting its beauty, we are all art; in us is the beauty and future of a world together as one human family. In times of great duress it is hard to see that unity is possible but in a neighbourhood where families from every background come together in love you can see what immense capacity we all have to turn things around for the future. My neighbours and family are my everyday heroes–the best kind of celebrity right in your hood.
What media do you use?
There was a time where I had several different projects, like maybe 10 going at the same time in many different mediums, and still it’s very hard to resist trying something new. I love to work with my hands, like in the garden choosing flowers to suit a certain palate or mood I am in. The struggle with too many artistic endeavours is that it’s hard to fine tune so many things to really come to a new reality where your years of work show through your focus on a particular area. There came a point where I decided to limit myself to 3 options: painting on canvas or wood (which now includes glass stones), crocheting and gardening. I am pleased to reflect that I have been consistent for years and even though I have brought a few new ideas in, they contribute to the three main focuses. It is wonderful to reflect on the development of my painting over the course of my life and see how certain strokes and ideas have been honed in my newer pieces.
Why is creativity and artistic expression important to you? Or important to the world?
With the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, from a young age we had conversations about the importance of having a craft and watching my parents figure out what that meant to them. My dad has dedicated his life’s work to composing music to amplify the Holy Writings. My mum loved to create interactive displays for devotional spaces.
As a toddler I was 70 percent deaf, which was repaired with surgery. During this time when I could not hear, I became delayed in my learning and was diagnosed with dyslexia. It was through the wisdom of my parents and the admirable flexibility of my teachers and administrators that much of my evaluation was given to my artistic ability to express what I was learning. Ms. Anna, my grade 4 teacher, would lovingly encourage my drawings. I always felt my Head Mistress and Head Master the Austins and Zoe and Kypros Kouris at the Heritage School encouraged my artistic strengths. I remember at Maxwell International Baha’i School, I had to memorize the Hidden Words which was impossible unless I sang them. My father began to compile several musical compositions of Holy Writings and by the end we created an album called The Scattering Angels. I would sing these renditions to my teacher Ms. Mann to obtain my assignment. Such treasured moments looking back.
Going forward I have always felt that we limit students by telling them how to express what they are learning only in written word. How often I felt in university if you would let me paint you a picture I would portray the truth of what I have learned.
Which brings me to a quote I love to sing by Baha’u’llah but with a Thracian tune from my ancestors: “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.“
How can art serve?
When you have art at your fingertips you feel you have so much to give to society whether you’re expressing themes of unity, justice or love. The possibilities of giving feel limited only to time in this world.
When I create my art it is my greatest wish for every painting to be of service to humanity and that the teachings of Baha’u’llah are embedded in the patterns, colours and twinkles of the glass.
Thank you, Meleyna!
You can find Meleyna’s art on Instagram.
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