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Local “artivist” Mayanthi Jayawardena (aka Serendib Creative) is having a mural moment.
They say life is what happens when you’re making other plans. That’s undoubtedly the case for local artist Mayanthi Jayawardena, whose star is rapidly rising. If you haven’t seen her name, you’ve no doubt seen her work. The “Raleigh Founded” muralist has been busy painting the town all summer, and you can’t be out and about in Raleigh without witnessing, interacting with—if not ’Gramming in front of—one of her murals.
But that wasn’t the original plan. The second-generation Sri Lankan painter, muralist, photographer, digital illustrator, videographer and the one-woman show behind Serendib Creative LLC was busy building up her immigrant- and mental health-focused works to establish a gallery on those topics (some of which were on view at Chef’s Palette restaurant and gallery in Cary this summer) while also working toward expanding her work for a larger exhibit on healing art (stay tuned for this one).
Call it serendipity? As it is, her plan to connect to and heal the community through art no doubt unfolded—just not the way she immediately intended. While her artworks were getting attention, that work gave rise to these mural projects—and it was her murals the world wanted from her right now.
“And when the world seems to be conspiring in your favor—you just need to own it,” says Mayanthi humbly.
Beyond providence, naming also seems to sit ethereally at the center of this. Ironically, the “Serendib” name alone is serendipitous—literally. Serendib is what Sri Lanka was once called, named so by Arab traders way back—and derived from, you guessed it, “serendipity.”
“Sri Lanka is obviously a huge part of who I am,” she says. “And I feel like my journey to art has been very serendipitous. The name holds so much meaning for me, as I feel like it keeps me connected to my culture and my artistic roots.
Beyond the “Raleigh Founded” mural that iconically splashes the side of the eponymous brand’s building in the Warehouse District (aka the most photographed place in Raleigh), Mayanthi’s touch can be found all over Raleigh. Think this spring’s Downtown Raleigh Alliance’s DRA Routes Activation (the start/finish murals in Moore Square and Celebration mural on Square Burger) and “The Birds and Bees” Duke Energy Center pop-up market digital mural decals across places like Duke Energy Center, Transfer Co. Food Hall, Marbles and more… plus the “Just for Kicks” illustration on the Fayetteville Street kiosk this summer. (She credits her relationship with DRA for propelling her—after serving as a featured artist for First Friday, DRA’s David Moore tapped her for the Moore Square Activation: “He took to my art and has been a really big catalyst for me and gave me these great opportunities through DRA. I’m really so grateful.”)
And riding on that mural momentum, she’s also the artist behind the much-’Grammed walls of Element Gastropub, the Lafayette Village fountains, the bathrooms at poppin’ plant shop Urban Pothos (“I created an Instagrammable mural in their bathroom with a crown and plants growing from it,” she says) and Triangle Beer Co. (a larger colorful mural of the brewery logo that, like the others, is a huge social media hit).
“We selected Mayanthi as our artist [for Triangle Beer Co.] because she works with so many bold colors, and after personally getting to know her a bit, I got a sense for the passion that she puts into her work,” says Sunny Gurbacky, Cotton House Craft Brewers’ head of business, psychology and throwing ragers (aka head of marketing). “Additionally, as a woman who works in a largely male-dominated industry, I am always looking for ways to invite more women into the space.”
No doubt Mayanthi is having a moment. As are murals. Throughout the wildly chaotic and traumatic 2020, murals erupted at the intersection of emotion, art and advocacy as a sort of “artivism.” “You see so much in the murals,” she says. “And people can come to this place for connection. They resonate with it. They take pictures in front of it. It’s such an amazing world that advocacy is happening in these ways.”
Now as we round into fall of 2021, murals are taking over towns across the country (and Mayanthi’s and others’ are pervading Raleigh with a splash of truth and hope).
Recently, Mayanthi served as a feature panelist on the Cha Chats: Exploring the Asian American Experience: Artivism panel, the third part of a four-part series via Zoom with artists from across the country to wax on the meaning of this moment in time. “In a time where creative expression is exploding, artists in every city are being seen as voices of the people, using their art to raise awareness and spread messages in ways that have not been seen before,” she says. “I think I stumbled upon artivism. I was always an activist— after spending nine years in sexual violence prevention—and I naturally turned to art to heal and to express what I was feeling.”
So, here she is planning on making a gift to the world through a healing art gallery, and, instead, the world gifts her this opportunity to be part of this epic mural moment. The poetic justice is not lost on her. “I didn’t expect any of this,” she says with resonant gratitude. “I was working on healing—and the rest fell into place with murals.” ’Gram on. @serendibcreative; serendibcreative.com
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