Four years ago, Vennela Medapati was a freshman, new to the United States and majoring in biology. Now, she’s a media and journalism major with a passion for making art and a drive to share it.
Medapati was born in Connecticut, but spent her entire life in India. She decided to return to the United States for college, but didn’t initially plan to pursue her current route, she said.
“I came here for college four years ago in 2016 fall,” Medapati said. “Why North Carolina? Because I wanted to practice applying for universities, and UNC had the earliest deadline, so I was like ‘Yeah, I’ve heard of this university, let me just apply to it.’”
Medapati entered UNC as a biology major, because she felt that a creative path for her education was not an option for her. However, after taking a few classes in the journalism school, she decided to change her major, Medapati said.
“In India, there’s only three possible fields that anyone can go into, not really, but 90 percent of the kids,” Medapati said. “Being an artist and doing creative stuff is not really an option there, so I really think that’s how I fell into the biology track, but I’ve always been the artsy fartsy of the family.”
Medapati grew up creating art, and has explored a variety of media. However, her current style reflects one very similar to what she first drew while growing up in India, she said.
“My first memory of making art that people appreciated was in the same style when I was around 5 or 6 years old,” Medapati said. “At the time, I never knew that there was something called a style of art and that you have to find a niche or fit, so I‘ve dabbled with different media sense, and I think I’ve finally found my current niche of doing digital art in the style that I did way back when I was 5 years old.”
Medapati’s art features nature, portraits and animals in a distinct, colorful style. The style is unique to American audiences, but is actually a common style used in India, Medapati said.
“My style is very Indian, and it looks unique here, but it’s very common there,” Medapati said. “I don’t think I would’ve been able to express myself like this if I stayed back in India. Coming to the U.S. has made me expand my horizons.”
Although coming to the U.S. was a culture shock for Medapati, her art has gained a stronger Indian influence since living here, said Alexis Byrd, her friend and former roommate.
“Her art has become more true to her roots, because now that she is in an American university setting, I think it’s harder to draw on immediate things and inspiration for her work,” Byrd said. “Being surrounded by mostly Americans, I think her work has just started to take on a very clear Indian influence.”
Medapati grew up in a space where everyone around her was similar to her, which made it difficult to discover her identity. Coming to the U.S. has made her realize who she is and the influence of her culture on her life, Medapati said.
“I think you don’t know your identity until you see other people’s identities as well,” Medapati said. “In India, I was surrounded by everybody who looked similar to me and spoke similar to me, so I didn’t know I had an identity until I came here. Coming here gave me the exposure to express my culture and how I grew up. I would not have seen that from a third person point of view if I hadn’t come here.”
Although Medapati’s culture has a large influence on her art, she said not everything she creates has strong roots or a meaning behind it. Sometimes, art can be a purely beautiful thing, rather than something with a complex meaning behind it, she said.
“I think it’s important to share my art because I want people to know that it doesn’t have to mean anything,” Medapati said. “My art doesn't necessarily have to represent something and be life changing and world changing. I just think it’s nice to have a pretty image show up on your feed, and a lot of the art I see is not Indian art, so I also want to be somebody that exposes people around me to an Indian style of art.”
Medapati recently created an Instagram to showcase her artwork and the process behind the creation. However, she wants to keep art solely as a passion, rather than making it her career, she said.
“I don’t think I would ever make art a career, but I would always keep it as something to go to when I’m wanting to get away from my career,” Medapati said. “Because I love doing creative stuff, advertising seemed like the best niche for me. There are a lot of creative outlets there, but it’s also very structured.”
Although Medapati is graduating in May, she hasn’t found the perfect route for her career yet. While it is unsure now, she is a person who takes opportunity in stride and is always prepared for the unexpected, said Dana McMahan, a professor in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
“I think she is a great curator of the things around her, but she’s just someone who’s ready and prepared and open for all different kinds of opportunities that come her way with a total joyful aspect of her personality,” McMahan said. “I think she’s always prepared for that there is something interesting coming and that she’s ready to just take it on, whatever it is, even if she doesn’t know what it is.”
The stress of graduating and finding a career is present for her, but Medapati said she hopes that after she establishes herself in the corporate world, she can return to art as a passion and make it a full-time hobby.
“I really hope when I graduate and make a career somewhere else that I can get back to art as a full-time passion instead of worrying about the monetary aspect of it,” Medapati said. “I want my art to be as authentic as I can, and I just think this is a part of the journey of me finding myself. I’m not an artist yet — I’m not there yet — so it’s a part of me growing.”
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