In recent times, the world has been talking about the 'Lunar Codex', a series of time capsules containing the work of 30,000 artists from 157 countries that will journey to the lunar surface. Among those artists, a Bangladeshi conceptual artist, currently based in Toronto, Canada, got the call as a selected artist for her artwork 'Maternal Instinct'. Since then, the journey of Salbhi Sumaiya: and her Meraki Studio has been featured in several media; and recently she sat down for a virtual interview with Dhaka Courier from Toronto.

Dhaka Courier: For the readers of Dhaka Courier, please enlighten us with a little bit of background about yourself.

Salbhi Sumaiya: Rooted in Bangladesh, I'm Salbhi Sumaiya-a Conceptual and Visual artist who has found both inspiration and connection in the world of art. Nature and animals have always held a special place in my heart, serving as the wellsprings of my artistic journey. This deep-rooted affection for the natural world led me to channel my creativity into works that speak for those who cannot voice their own plight.

My journey took an intriguing turn when I delved into the realm of commission and custom paintings. It all began with a large painting of my beloved bird Bolo, a cockatiel, which garnered unexpected attention. This experience illuminated a profound truth-people cherish their pets, recognizing that their time together is short-lived. This realization inspired me to capture those cherished moments in art, creating lasting memories that celebrate the unique bonds between humans and their furry companions.

On a personal note, my household is graced by the presence of two Golden Retrievers, Rocher and Lindt. They bring joy and a sense of companionship to my life. While they hold a special place in my heart, I've also had the privilege of sharing my life with other dogs - Twix, Tobler, and Bounty who have left us for a better place.

Stepping into my world, a visit to my Facebook and Instagram pages under the brand MerakiStudio.Art offers glimpses of my life. The serene backdrop of our farmhouse in Savar, lovingly named The Nest, serves as the canvas for many of my paintings and photoshoots. This tranquil setting not only nourishes my artistic endeavours but also provides a haven where cherished moments are shared with my family, friends and beloved pets.

Dhaka Courier: When did your artistic journey begin and how it is going so far?

Salbhi Sumaiya: My artistic voyage has been a cross-continental odyssey, from my roots in Bangladesh to my artistic haven in Toronto, Canada. Specializing in Fine Arts, I honed my skills through a Fine Arts major and an Honours degree in Graphic Design and Multimedia. This journey also saw me contributing my creative flair to prestigious advertising agencies in my homeland.

Recognition, such as RBC awards, the Newcomer and Refugee Artist Mentorship award, to name a few, and grants from institutions like the Toronto Arts Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, and Royal Bank of Canada, have not only humbled me but also inspired me. Beyond Canadian borders, my work has found its place in exhibitions that span the globe, from Poland and South Africa to Japan, Canada, India, and beyond. These experiences have not only enriched me with awards and distinctions but have also afforded me the opportunity to share my artistry at both national and global levels.

Beyond oil paintings of animals, my artistic repertoire encompasses diverse subjects and mediums. I craft intricate charcoal sketches of women with South Asian heritage and delve into contemporary issues, such as the heartrending plight of the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar. Iconic figures like Rabindranath Tagore and others also grace my canvas in vibrant oil paintings.

Dhaka Courier: What was the story behind the beginning of your Meraki Studio?

Salbhi Sumaiya: My journey led up to the vision of Meraki Studio, a sanctuary devoted to fostering artistic expression, particularly among the younger generation. This vision extends beyond traditional art instruction; it's about creating a space where individuals of all ages can uncover their unique creative identities and break free from conventional limitations. I'm particularly passionate about extending this opportunity to children, especially those with disabilities, aiming to kindle their potential through art as a means of self-expression that defies conventional norms. Meraki Studio also aspires to be more than an educational haven; it envisions itself as a premium art gallery, hosting prestigious exhibitions tailored to the discerning tastes of art enthusiasts seeking distinctive styles.

Dhaka Courier: How did you get the opportunity to send your artwork to the moon? Please elaborate on the process behind your affiliation with the 'Lunar Codex' project.

Salbhi Sumaiya: Learning that my art would journey to the moon was a blend of emotions-excitement, pride, and thankfulness, all at once. When I got an email from Dr Samuel Peralta, the promoter of the project, explaining that my art was going to the moon, I felt both amazed and unsure if it was real. To dispel my uncertainty, I delved deeper into his background and explored his website. After doing so, I became certain that this was indeed a genuine opportunity and I'd be the first artist from Bangladesh to represent my country on the moon. That was something to be really proud of. And then, to know that not just my painting "Material Instinct" but also a six-minute video of mine "Studio Tour" would be there too, it felt like I had achieved something big.

My art reminds us we're part of a journey to explore, discover, and protect our nature and wildlife. The moon's allure aligns with my art's message of caring for our planet and its creatures.

The inclusion of my painting in the Lunar Codex Project seeks to inspire future generations to intertwine art and exploration. Through my art, I aim to spark imagination and connect art with science. Artwork setting off on its cosmic voyage unveils human creativity's boundless potential. Through my art, I hope to ignite imaginations, nurturing a connection between art, science and our responsibility to nature.

Dhaka Courier: How much does this artistic achievement, alongside your other previous achievements, mean to you?

Salbhi Sumaiya: These achievements hold a profound and deeply personal significance for me. Each recognition, award, and opportunity serves as a poignant validation of the journey I've embarked upon. Beyond the surface-level commendations, they reaffirm the potential of artistic expression to be a driving force in sparking meaningful dialogues about crucial global issues.

As an artist, my purpose has been to transcend the conventional boundaries of art, using my creations as a platform to amplify the voices of the marginalized and cast a spotlight on urgent matters that often go unnoticed. The acknowledgement of my endeavours through these achievements reinforces my unwavering belief in the transformative power of art-a belief that pushes me to explore new horizons and expand the impact of my work.

These honours serve as a reminder that even the most humble contributions can have a ripple effect, touching lives and inspiring change. With each accolade bestowed upon me, my determination intensifies, urging me to continue channelling my creativity into a force for connection, compassion, and meaningful transformation.

Dhaka Courier: What are your future plans regarding your art? Would you exhibit that particular artwork in any forthcoming exhibition worldwide?

Salbhi Sumaiya: As I chart my artistic path ahead, my aspirations are marked by expansion and collaboration. Drawing upon the international exhibitions that have showcased my work across Poland, South Africa, Japan, Canada, India, Bangladesh, and beyond, I am resolute in my determination to broaden this global canvas. The exposure gained from these exhibitions not only enriches my artistic journey but also extends my reach to a global audience, fostering connections and sparking conversations.

Driven by a fervent commitment to champion wildlife and environmental causes, I am dedicated to forming partnerships with organizations like WWF, Greenpeace, etc. to ensure that my art serves a profound purpose that transcends aesthetics. My commitment to shedding light on pressing social issues, including the plight of the Rohingya population in Myanmar, remains a cornerstone of my artistic direction.

The upcoming inclusion of my painting "Maternal Instinct" later this year in Canada's largest and most prestigious art fair marks a significant milestone for me. Notably, this artwork is also slated to be transformed into a limited edition series. Aligning with the Lunar Codex program, this special series will possess attributes that commemorate its lunar journey, allowing collectors to own a piece with a unique story. I am excited about the painting's inherent message-the nurturing connection between a mother wolf and her cub-as it resonates with our collective responsibility to safeguard the Earth and its inhabitants. This sentiment captures the essence of my artistic philosophy, reminding us of our role as custodians of our planet similar to the cub and her mother.

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