Food imitates art or in this case, the other way around. If imitation is in fact the biggest form of flattery, what does it say about someone who loves to bring food to life with her art?
AH: Tell us a little more about yourself, how food has influenced your life so far?
My name is Mona, and I come from a small island in the Middle East called Bahrain. I graduated university from Boston where I attended undergrad at Northeastern majoring in Management and received my MBA from Bentley.
I’ve always been a huge foodie (hence my nickname -Monalicious). I’m more of a sweet tooth, and I can bet you I’m the biggest chocoholic you’ll ever meet. Chocolate is like my cigarette– it literally calms me down and I need to carry some around wherever I go. Ironically though, I also have insulin sensitivity, which means my blood produces too much insulin when I have sugar- which is not so great for my health!
Growing up, I had no clue about what a calorie or a carb was and I would pretty much eat whatever I wanted. Clearly, I was a chubby kid – but life was good! However, I picked up a lot of habits from my childhood that I had developed and that’s mainly the reason why I love desserts so much!
Eventually, I discovered that I had to change my way of eating due to my insulin sensitivity and all its consequences on my health. I somehow ended up going from the extreme unhealthy eater that I was to the other extreme over-obsessed healthy eater. During my university years, I have been on all kinds of diets you can imagine – no carb, low carb/ high fat, low fat, blood sugar diet, baby food diet (that was the worse). I went through years of yo-yo dieting and a cycle of gaining and losing weight.
I struggled to know what balance was and had a difficult time achieving it up till recently.. and I truly believe I was able that “balance” only after finding my authentic self– that side of me is shown throughout @monaliciousarts. I believe that allowing myself completely be the person that I truly am allowed me to achieve the inner peace and happiness I needed to get to that place of balance in my life.
I believe that it’s better to be happy and healthy than skinny and miserable.
AH: Going back to how your food inspired art began, how did it go from doodles on your planner to art hanging in actual cafés?
I first discovered that I’m actually a good artist back in high school when I took an Art IB Higher Level class. I picked that class because it just seemed like a fun easy class to fill up my schedule. I had no idea how much I would actually fall in love with Art. I had an amazing teacher who I am so thankful for up-till today because he was able to bring out my talent and believed in me so much.
It was unspeakable to even ask my parents that I wanted to study Art. My parents were always supportive of my talent but always reminded me that it’s a great “hobby”. Art is just not something they regard as a career since its not something think, “makes money”. This kind of mentality is very common in the Middle East unfortunately. I was always expected to study something Business related and work in the family business, so that’s what I did!
After graduating about three years ago, I started working in the family business. I had nothing to look forward to while working there and found myself at Baskin Robbins every day after work. I realized that I needed to make a change but I was hopeless because I did not want to disappoint my dad and leave work.
That’s when I made the decision to make time to make more Art. I started an Art journal, which was a simple way to express myself creativity daily without taking up too much of my time. I illustrate my day through delicious foods I eat and journal my thoughts as well. I was pleased that people enjoyed my journal entries that I’d share on @monaliciousarts. I would also post some of my art pieces that I produced throughout the years.
The owner of a café, Grind, where I’m a regular at saw my pieces and expressed that she’d be interested in a piece for her cafe. She wanted to display the choices of different coffee beans she serves in her coffee in some kind of coffee flavour chart, and asked if I could do it in a creative way. I got excited because I thought it sounded like a exciting fun project to take on! That is basically where the whole idea of selling customized oil paintings to cafes started. I didn’t have to quit the family business doing my Art on the side, and it would just be something to look forward to in my life that I love doing.
Since then, I started selling customized paintings to cafés based on their needs in a creative way. So far I have show pieced my work at three cafés, and I have also started auctioning tiny little canvases on my account.
AH: And speaking of food, what is your diet like on a day to day basis? Does it serve as inspiration for your art?
After years of dieting, I don’t believe food should be boring because otherwise it won’t be sustainable in the long-run. I consider myself a overall healthy person but I don’t restrict myself completely. My diet is based on a lot of vegetables, protein, healthy fats, some complex carbs like quinoa, and I always save space every day for some naughty calories! I have to treat myself to some dark chocolate or a chocolate truffle (or two) every day with my cappuccino- those are my two vices and I wouldn’t give them up for anything! I try to avoid red meat but occasionally have it. I believe that it’s better to be happy and healthy than skinny and miserable.
AH: How does living and being from the Middle East affect your diet and in what ways?
Thankfully, the Middle Eastern diet can actually be a pretty healthy and balanced diet. Although there are some rice dishes in our cuisine, our diet is also made of lots of grilled protein dishes, fish, olive oil, hummus and taboula! My lunch is usually something like grilled chicken pieces which I dip in hummus with a side of grilled vegetables.
This has definitely made it easier on me to access delicious healthy fast food. There is always a restaurant around that serves such food so it reduces the chances of picking up a burger on my way back from work.
AH: What has been your favourite piece you’ve created recently and why?
Although I think of all of my pieces as my babies and love them so much, I am very excited about the piece that I am currently working on for RAAW, a “clean food” cafe that serves smoothies, smoothie bowls and healthy snacks and desserts made from all clean ingredients.
They approached me to design and paint a huge chalk wall in the cafe, which I was honestly hesitant about accepting in the first place because I had no experience drawing on wall! I normally specialize in producing photorealistic paintings – oil paintings with a huge amount of detail that resembles a real life photo. However, I really loved the vibe of the place, its concept, the décor, and the owners were so sweet so I ended up accepting the job, and hoping for the best.
Surprisingly, I ended up doing a great job (while having lots of fun- although it is more work than I expected). It feels good putting myself out of comfort zone and exposing myself to something completely different than what I’m uses to and learning something new.
Feel like you need more Mona in your life? We gotchu’ follow her incredible work-