Today’s #madeinsandwell Monday spotlight is on Caroline Jariwala, the acclaimed international artist behind Mango Mosaics.
We were excited to chat to Caroline after reading this wonderful story in the Express & Star. In the feature, Caroline shows reporter Heather Large around her Bearwood home, a showcase of creative inspiration and techniques, which include the ‘picassiette’ method of using chipped and discarded crockery to create joyful new mosaics.
Caroline’s highly textured, colourful mosaics are influenced by the fragments of crockery, glass and mirrors she uses, a powerful symbol of recycling and sustainability. Her designs are also inspired by the Rangoli and Mehndi patterns of Caroline’s Gujarati Indian heritage. Nature features prominently too and Caroline describes the bee – another symbol of sustainability – as her “unofficial logo”.
Here in Sandwell, you may have admired Caroline’s work in the Prince of Wales in West Bromwich. Caroline’s large-scale mosaic mural depicting dancers and dhol drummers was commissioned by Creative Black Country in a project to celebrate our region’s tradition of desi pubs.
It was another Creative Black Country project – 100 Masters – that made Caroline the star of this viral video about her creative process, and how she refuses to grade the students who attend her mosaic-making workshops.
“Art is not about passing a blummin’ exam!” says Caroline in the short film. “It’s about what you feel. You can’t mark that.”
You may also have seen Caroline’s sparkling mosaic owl during Birmingham’s 2015 Big Hoot art trail. ‘Starlight’ was positioned outside Birmingham’s Pavilions during the ten-week fundraiser for Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
Of course Caroline’s work is not confined to the West Midlands, or even the UK. Her international commissions include a beautiful flowering meadow mosaic wall in Gurgaon, a city southwest of New Delhi in India; a stunning iris and anemone tree planter in Bodrum, Turkey; and a contribution to a 100m wall mosaic of Puente Alto’s town hall in Chile, created by 60 artists from all over the world.
From painter to mosaic maker
Caroline grew up in Feltham near Hounslow and took a Fine Art degree in Cardiff. She trained as a teacher and her first artistic medium was painting.
Caroline’s gorgeous paintings are inspired by her Gujarati Indian heritage, combined later on with the colours, composition and themes of early Italian Renaissance and Byzantine art.
From 1995-6 Caroline and her then-husband spent a “life-changing” VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) year setting up an art and design course at the Vocational Training Centre for the Disabled in Eritrea. The northeast African country was still in recovery from its war of independence with the Ethiopian government, so Caroline and her husband were teaching ex-fighters and people who were amputees.
“It challenged our viewpoint on the world,” said Caroline. “I think that year made us more confident as practitioners and artists too.”
Having also lived in Oldham, Greater Manchester, it was the year 2000 when Caroline moved to the West Midlands for her then-husband’s job at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham.
It’s here that Caroline feels most at home.
“The West Midlands is so friendly,” she said. “Living in other places, I got used to people saying, ‘We really should meet up’ and never following it through.
“The difference here is, they will be on the phone a few days later, saying ‘Oi! Why haven’t we made that date to meet up yet?'”
From 2010-12 Caroline studied for an MA in Art, Health & Wellbeing at Birmingham City University – another career-defining step.
“I went into the Master’s degree as a painter and emerged as a mosaic artist,” she said, explaining that the creativity and joy she felt while making mosaics was a welcome distraction from the academic writing pressures of the course.
Caroline went on to create many mural installations, and teach mosaic-making in schools and in workshops from her Bearwood home.
Artist in lockdown
In mid-March 2020, before the UK went into general lockdown, Caroline took herself into self-isolation with suspected COVID-19.
“I never had a test, but I had all the symptoms and I am certain it was the virus. It took me a long time to feel better – for weeks afterwards I just felt very tired,” she said.
“While I was recovering, I needed a strategy to keep me sane. And so I created a mandala mosaic on the landing ceiling and walls of my home.
“At the time I was following Grayson [Perry]‘s Art Club which encouraged artists to respond to the situation. It was wonderful. I think I misread the brief, though. I didn’t want to have a big spiky coronavirus symbol in my house, or images of facemasks everywhere! I deliberately chose calming colours to make the mosaic restful.”
It’s beautiful [see above]. You can learn about Caroline’s creative and technical process on her YouTube channel, to which she has nearly 10,000 subscribers.
On completion of the mandala, Caroline began creating her golden peacock mural [pictured below]. She had planned to do this in the autumn, before lockdown and the resulting postponement of her teaching sessions suddenly gave her more time on her hands.
Now Caroline is ahead of her own schedule, and looking forward to a time when it is safe to welcome people back into her home for workshops.
“People have been brilliant through this,” she said. “I contacted everyone to give them refunds and most asked me to keep the money and re-book them when the outbreak has gone away.”
We are certain Caroline and her work will emerge brighter and even more inspiring than before. You can learn more about Mango Mosaics at www.mangomosaics.co.uk.