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Ep. 53 with Madhu Kumar, Nominee, YWCA of Regina, Women of Distinction

By July 8, 2020July 21st, 2023No Comments

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Madhu Kumar was born and raised in India where she received her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees. Kumar earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Regina with Great Distinction in 2017. Her oil portraits, paintings of horses, and landscapes have been in juried exhibitions in Ottawa and Regina.

Her current work is an ongoing series of large-scale paintings on the experience of immigrant women in Canada, and she is involved in David Garneau’s Edmonton based Tawatina Bridge art project. Madhu has exhibited her work in over thirty solo and group exhibits.

When asked about her artistic practice, she talks about the power of storytelling to connect and empower us. When she collaborates with the women who are portrayed in her work, she holds dearly to the values of creating a safe space and solidarity. It is her hope that the stories will illuminate women’s capabilities, imagination and resilience.

Connect with Madhu Kumar

CBC Documentary Madhu Kumar’s stories of immigrant women…




Barb McGrath 0:01
Today’s guest was born and raised in India, where she received her Bachelor of art and Bachelor of Education degrees. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Regina with great distinction in 2017. And artist, her current work is an ongoing series of large scale paintings on the experience of immigrant women in Canada. fascinating subject. When asked about her artistic practice, she talks about the power of storytelling to connect and empower us all. And that is so so true. So welcome, Matthew, please tell us a little bit about yourself and about your work.

Madhu Kumar 0:48
Thanks for having me. First of all, first of all, I want to thank YWCA. I’m honored to receive this woman of distinction nomination. And so yeah, so you want me to tell me about myself?

Barb McGrath 1:05
Well, yeah, but yourself and and your your work, and congratulations on your nomination, like what a fantastic program. The women of distinction is. And I’m very honored that each year I have the opportunity to interview a number of the women involved in the program. Like I am just humbled by those conversations. So thank you for being here. And yes, tell us about yourself and about your work.

Madhu Kumar 1:29
Oh, yes. So um, so we came to Canada in 2001. And I was a home state mom, because we were not planning to stay here. for that long, we were just on here for two years. And so anyway, far faster track, I will just go that. So I was the home state mom. And, um, then I met a woman there, you know, in Toronto, and she was traveling the zinger, Jane, I was also experiencing that. No, there’s so many layers of things that immigrant women go through that, you know, you leave your family behind, and you leave your friends and your identity be behind. Yeah, here and you’re nothing right? Can you lose your language, you lose those lose your culture. And it’s a total struggle to establish yourself and to stand on your feet here, right.

Um, so that that those stories resonated in me, and, and there was a, there was a lady who was struggling raising her daughter, and she’s all alone. Even if you are with your partner, it is easy. It’s not easy to raise your kids. But when you’re alone, in a country where you don’t know anybody, there’s no support. There’s no family. So then then, of course, I with my empathy, I helped her out. But that story stayed with me forever. And we moved to Ottawa, then we moved to Regina. And that story was within me and I wanted to do something for the woman. Okay, that’s how I started it.

So the university,

Barb McGrath 3:36
So as an immigrant woman, yourself, there was there was a real connection, because you could relate in a way that, you know, a lot of women couldn’t if you were born and raised in Canada, it’s actually quite difficult to be able to appreciate sometimes what we have. And and I’m a big believer that sometimes you appreciate what you have, you have to leave and come back. Right. I actually left the province for a number of years and came back simply because I understood how much we have to offer here. When you first immigrated you didn’t come to Saskatchewan, then it sounds like drunker you were in Toronto. At first

Madhu Kumar 4:12
We were in Ottawa and Regina.

Barb McGrath 4:14
Okay. And so Toronto, of course, being a huge center even a number of years ago. Were in India, where you originally from?

Madhu Kumar 4:24
My dad was in the military in the army. So we were all over India. Oh.

Barb McGrath 4:31
Were you in large cities like Toronto?

Madhu Kumar 4:34
Yeah, Delhi. Okay.

Barb McGrath 4:36
Okay. You were in Delhi. Yes. So actually, Toronto’s a small city compared to Delhi. Like it’s like a little suburb off to the side compared. And you do you go home to India very often anymore?

Madhu Kumar 4:51
Oh, yes. Yes, I do. Yes.

Barb McGrath 4:55
How are you back?

Sorry. How often do you get back

Madhu Kumar 4:59
Oh, Viet, I go just for maybe two months. And I was there from, you know, this year, and I was stuck and I was thinking, dude, am I going to get the flight to go back to Canada with this?

But I managed to go back.

Barb McGrath 5:19
Did you make it back at the beginning of COVID? Or were you in India for part of the pandemic? March mid March?

Madhu Kumar 5:26
Okay. Yeah, yeah. Oh, wow. Wow.

Barb McGrath 5:33
Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about your nomination with the YWCA. Um, did you know the nomination was happening? How did that come to be?

Madhu Kumar 5:43
Um, you know, yes, I knew it. I was, um, it was a surprise. Actually. It was. Yeah. When I got this message from Mark Daugherty, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, during requests to nominate me. And at that time, there was just less than two weeks left. Oh, yeah. So and the time difference between Canada and India is 11 hours. Yes. So I was really busy with my, I was trying to do something in India for the International Women’s Day for March 8, was something there. So meaning I was very busy there. And upon the rise, and he, you know, he also wanted some documents from me, and then back and forth, the emails were going, and I was thinking it is too difficult to even, you know, apply for this application fill in the application, because it’s a process. And, yes, they did on time. But to my surprise, he not only submitted in timely he’s submitted before time. So he was motivated. Within just two, three days, he submitted it. And I was really surprised. And I was very humbled, because, you know, everybody is so busy. Mm hmm. But, yeah, to just submit it in, in a week’s time was something.

Barb McGrath 7:20
Yes, it is. Absolutely. Absolutely. So I can see behind you that you’ve got a fairly large portrait sitting there. Can you tell us the story of that person?

Madhu Kumar 7:31
This is a, this the main, the big portrait, the original one is already out with Spacek. Okay, seven, two or four, three years? out, what three years? But this was a study. So I thought my art this behind so that you can see.

Barb McGrath 7:51
Yes. Well, and you had some really good pictures. I think it was on your Facebook page, or maybe it was in the CBC article. It looks like you have either your home is a gallery or you had a number of pictures up in the gallery. Maybe that’s that the show that you have that’s ongoing.

Madhu Kumar 8:08
Ah, I had to add a very successful show at the Legislative Assembly. And you know, there’s a gallery there. Oh, actually, that that show was invited like Mark, dr. D. And Mark Daugherty requested me to bring this show to the legislative building there for a long time and then CBC art scheme to interview me there and to wanted me to wanted a documentary on my project. So they did that over there. Right. And, and the documentary is doing really well actually. Good. got nominated at the yorkton Film Festival. Oh, wow. That’s so true. Yeah.

Barb McGrath 9:00
That’s very good.

Madhu Kumar 9:01

Barb McGrath 9:03
So tell me about your call it your process, if that’s the wrong word, but you know, for example, myself, if I need to do writing for my work, I like to get up and seclude myself and work. If I get distracted, if the dogs coming and going if the kids are knocking, it doesn’t work for me. So do you have a process where you know when you’re inspired, you know when you’re ready to paint? How do you recognize that and what does it feel like for you?

Madhu Kumar 9:38
See, inspiration is everyday because these are the powerful stories right? So um, and then also the the stories of immigrant women grew out of deep empathy and a desire to bring to life the stories of women and women on the story. Like wet has immigrated to Canada. There’s stories around this so many the inspiration around and so yeah, my process is that I. So how I started is that I went to immigrant woman Center here in Regina make stories initially right? Ah, like two, five stories from there. And I took two stories from open door society. Okay. Right. And so I don’t interview them beforehand or I don’t know about them at all in that when they are ready to share their stories that means that is the main thing, right? Okay. Not everybody wants to share their stories,

Barb McGrath 10:53

Madhu Kumar 10:54
Some people, some woman who, you know, would would be okay to share their stories and Yes, yeah, so that is the end. So I go to their homes, to take their stories. them and then record the stories and take some pictures, photographs. Okay. Ready, come back to my studio. Basically, I had my studio at the university for a long time. till last year, I I was there

Barb McGrath 11:25
Because me I’m in the College Avenue campus,

Madhu Kumar 11:28
A university, the visual arts center. rendered gallery, right. Riddle center, right. Yeah, so I did my graduation from there in 2017. And after that, one of my professors, David garneau. commissioned work to float a bridge in Edmonton. It’s called the tabatinga. Bridge.

Barb McGrath 11:59
Yes, I read about that. I saw that in your profile.

Madhu Kumar 12:02
So it’s, it’s under construction now. And it’s going to be ready next year. May, May and June would be the opening ceremony. Okay. permission. And then he had painted for 400 paintings for the ceiling of

Barb McGrath 12:22
Oh, my goodness, tell us more about that. I mean, how does an artist get commissioned to paint a bridge? That’s not something I even realized it was

Madhu Kumar 12:30
Not mean, he got the commission. So we have to write the application to you know, it’s like a big competition between the artists. And then they vote, whoever gets selected, gets the commission work. And I forgot that the Commission work and he hired me, I was one of the artists who painted for that bridges. Well. Yeah. So. So I had that.

My studio after I graduated, that I did the residency twice. In the summertime, right. So I had my studio there. So it was like my second home.

Barb McGrath 13:19
Second home. Yes, exactly. home away from home. That’s exactly what I was hearing.

Madhu Kumar 13:23
And I had my key with me. So my studio key so I could go any time, Saturday or Sunday. So seven days a week, could be there for as long as I want, like, many others. Mm hmm.

Barb McGrath 13:38
So do you find that there’s been this? Is there times of the day where you know, you’re going to, I don’t know, feel more inspired, be able to be more productive? Right? Or? Or is it really when the moment strikes and you know that you’re you’ve got everything that you need to begin this portrait? How does that happen for you?

Madhu Kumar 14:02
So once I take this tour is I already know that you know, this is, then I get in, in spirited. I really want to go and just put the colors on the, you know, put the stories on the canvas, I would say. And I’m a morning person I favor in the morning and then yes. And the think what, like, late to do, according to the story, I take the pictures right and then see which photo well, which picture will look the best and would tell her story. Mm hmm. And then that that’s when I choose the the painting.

Barb McGrath 14:47
So do you do anything with the written part of the story? Is it transcribed on the back of the painting or anything?

Madhu Kumar 14:54
No. So the paintings are very large. You buy 64 you’d buy 64 people.

Barb McGrath 15:02
Okay, I didn’t realize they were that big. I knew they were large, but I didn’t realize they were that big.

Madhu Kumar 15:08
Now I started painting small ones as well, because not all the galleries have big spaces. Yes. Now I’m, I’m going, you know, smaller size. Okay.

So what was your question?

Barb McGrath 15:25
Well, I’m just, you know, I’m trying to envision your process. And there’s days that I wake up, and I know that I’m going to be able to get so much done, because I am inspired to do whatever the writing that design work. Yeah. Great. And so I would assume that it’s the same for you in some way.

Madhu Kumar 15:43
Yeah. The writing on the boat. So yes, so I paint the stories that would tell that lay person story well, right. And then the there’s also a written part of it, as well. I record their stories, it’s not written to Okay, the video recording and then the story, I put it on just one page, condense the story. story goes beside the painting. So it’s two three things, which goes along with this, the painting, so the story is there. And then I also ask all these women to give a message for the viewers, whether it could be a woman or anybody right. Now, also give, I also give a message to Canadian viewers. Okay, do you mind if I just it’s a very short one, I can

Barb McGrath 16:41
Yes, please do. I was gonna ask you for some examples and some of the stories. So please do.

Madhu Kumar 16:47
So this is just my message. Yeah, so the main message would be and then this is this day, all of yours, whoever comes to the gallery takes this, like, Ah, okay, like a bookmark, kind of.

So I say over here is, when you find yourself in the presence of a woman, who is rebuilding her life here, remember to slow down and be patient with her, they are overwhelmed by the experiences, and learning challenges that come along with moving to a new country, they are overcoming many obstacles of their own, provide a helping hand, give a warm smile, and be the friendly stranger that makes their day a little better, brighter than it was before.

Barb McGrath 17:42
That’s beautiful. That’s absolutely beautiful. And it’s so true. We’re all in such a rush, just to take a moment and slow down. Not everyone is moving at the same pace. I love that I still you know,

Madhu Kumar 17:55
That, you know, these immigrant woman, I’ve done 14 stories so far, and then travel to different countries. And I, I think then, when you come to a country, you’re not only learning a language, you’re learning their culture, you’re learning their way of living their, you know, everything, there’s so many things, your machines in you, not everybody has the similar kind of machine or the functioning day to day life. So, if you if you go to a coffee shop, or anywhere, and these immigrant women are working there,

So not everything is familiar to them, they are not used to it. And people who are coming to get their coffees and you know, something to grab from there are always in a rush. So they don’t realize that the other person is also learning so many things and, and they’re already overwhelmed with their own personal life. Hmm. Just have to slow down and understand the other person. It’s more than empathy. Mm hmm.

Barb McGrath 19:07
Yeah. You know, and that’s, that’s such a good point, even through COVID. We were all somewhat in a rush. And I know, as a small business owner, we had to adapt so quickly to the work that we do to be able to serve our clients. We didn’t slow down at all. And I hear from family and friends and you know, they slow down and they hang out and it was family time. And I’m like family time there is new time in the last couple months. And I’m actually looking forward to summer, because that hopefully is when things can slow down a little bit. But at this point in time, it’s not looking that see where it all goes. Um, do you have a favorite story or woman that you met? Or? Or were painting that you did? Do you have a story that you can share with us?

Madhu Kumar 20:08
You know, all these stories are so that’s what I thought you were gonna say, very dear to me, actually. Um, and if you go on my website, you will not only look at this to the paintings, but you will also be able to read about their stories. And these all stories are, um, you can learn so much from them, you know, this lessons you can learn, and you can relate to your own life, right? Yes. There’s so many stories that you can connect to one or two, on a very personal basis. Mm hmm. So it’s not that it’s favorite To me, it will be favorite, you know, every story is different reaction for the other viewer? Yes. So yeah.

Barb McGrath 21:03
Do you find that you almost become like a mentor to many of these women? Because you’ve been in Canada now for so many years?

Madhu Kumar 21:11
Yes. I, in fact, I was I was thinking that I, I’m, I’m thankful to YMCA. I’m getting this nomination from a YMCA and getting the acknowledgement from YMCA, who supports and empower women. So this means a lot to me, you know? And yes, of course. And I also was thinking to accept this recognition on behalf of all the immigrant woman in Regina. This kind of Yeah, I do. And these all these, most of these women are, their life has changed, they’re become very, to uplift anybody’s life is a, you know, is something. No,

Barb McGrath 22:05
It’s something to be proud of something to be very proud of the way you’re supporting them and

Madhu Kumar 22:12
Who lift up any any woman’s life or empower women is important, I think, hmm.

Barb McGrath 22:19
Yeah, I agree. I think um, you know, as a as a society and as a community. We, we do what we can, but there’s always more that we can do. And you know, the organizations that you’re you’re working with, and the the women that you’re working with, how many portraits do you typically do any year, or in a month? Because I’m assuming given the process, it’s not a sonic quick process.

Madhu Kumar 22:46
Right takes time. Because when you first you have to find the stories, right? Somebody has to be willing to share their stories. So and then you connect to them. You have to, you know, I’m connect to them, then take story. So it takes time and then record their stories and take the photographs and you select which one will I paint? The next kind of a month or so. Okay, one more vendor work awesome. Sometimes less than a month. It also depends on my mood. But Oh,

Barb McGrath 23:26
Yeah. Oh, inspired. You’re feeling bad. Do you if you can believe it. We’re basically at a time here today. So the last thing that I was hoping that you would share with everyone is, in order to view your work. Where can we see your work right now?

Madhu Kumar 23:40
Oh, you know what? I’m it’s, it’s, um, it’s on our Chevy tour. I was supposed to be up in March, but because of this COVID Yes. It’s not there yet. So I don’t know. I the only thing I knew was 20. galleries were booked in Saskatchewan can prove me more. So right now, I don’t know. I will have to go back to them and ask them all the galleries and I can no, I have a Facebook page.

Barb McGrath 24:18
Yeah. So let’s share that. Then share your website and Facebook page and on and think I’m going to

Madhu Kumar 24:23
Shit every everything on it. Wherever.

Who is going to go?

Barb McGrath 24:28
Yeah. Okay. So we can find you on your website, Facebook and Instagram. It’s those three right? And what was the name of that CBC story again, that you talked about?

Madhu Kumar 24:40
It says Madhu Kumar, the stories of immigrant woman. Ah, CBC art documentary. It’s CBC art exhibition is.

Barb McGrath 24:50
Okay. Excellent. All right. Well, we are just about out of time. So I’d like to thank you for joining us today on The Secret Life of entrepreneurs. Thank you, Matthew for joining us to talk about your inspiring work and the work that you’re doing in our community. That is so, so important. If you’d like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at Barb at Google or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at Above the Fold. ca. Just a reminder, you can also submit questions in advance of the live show on our Facebook page. I’m your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember you were charged for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.


Barb McGrath’s been cracking the online code for nearly 20 years. She helps local businesses get to the top of Google with digital marketing training, web design, SEO, online reputation and advertising. Most importantly, she’s earned the trust of Google.Barb runs the only Google-approved agency designed to show you how to turn the online “stuff” into in-store buyers.If you depend on in-person customers, you need Barb’s step-by-step, online marketing plan to generate a steady stream of onsite buyers and make it rain money. She is the host of the Secret Life of Entrepreneurs, a local radio show and iTunes and Google Podcast.