GROWING UP in Arima, Kavita Maharaj liked to draw. She was also a fan of the science-fiction television series Star Trek. Little did she know she would voyage to Canada, engage in an artistic mission for almost 30 years, and boldly paint licensed Star Trek pieces like no one has ever painted before.
The 44-year-old fine artist and yoga teacher spoke with Newsday via Zoom from her home in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where she lives with her husband Daniel and their dog Azul. She recalled her childhood fascination with Star Trek, which was aired on one of two channels available at that time.
“It presented the idea of the possibilities for different worlds. What child wouldn’t be taken with that?”
Her father was not a fan of her Trek love but became more understanding and supportive of her work later in life.
Her appreciation of art started when she was a standard three student at Arima Girls' RC. During a class, she was looking at her hand and sketching it. Her teacher was impressed and encouraged her to keep up her art, calling dibs on the child's first painting when she became famous.
“She was one of the first people to suggest a future for me artistically in some shape or form.”
When she was 13, Maharaj and her family moved to Canada, where she was born but had only lived for seven months.
She continued with her art, sold her first piece at 14, and was able to skip grades in school. She decided to study fine art at university, and on the advice of her father, she incorporated business into her degree. But after four years at Queen's University, Maharaj felt she had not learned a lot about art, and decided to start doing it on her own and then later with a friend in a studio apartment.
“This had a major impact on my growth as an artist. I was able to create art and learn about art as I was doing it.”
The Search for Spock
Eventually, art and her love for Star Trek merged when she decided to do a painting of Mr Spock for her home; the Vulcan science officer has always been Maharaj’s favourite character.
“Nobility really matters to me. And I got to watch him struggle with emotional responses to things but regularly choose the noble path and the greater good for everyone. To do the right thing. That reminds me of me.”
She also shares Spock’s logical trait.
“It is okay to be less emotional.”
But after two years of looking at photos of Spock she found she could not choose one to paint, as there were too many facial expressions to choose from. Her husband suggested she do more than one, and her Spock series was born.
“The Trek series became the moment I stepped into myself as an artist.”
The Undiscovered Country
Eventually, she began sharing pieces on social media. One day she received a cryptic message that said: “Who are you?” The message was from a friend of Spock actor Leonard Nimoy who wanted to buy some of her pieces. She told him what she told many other interested people – she was really sorry, but the paintings were labours of love and not for sale.
But she eventually gave in and decided get an official licence and sell prints when she continued to get numerous requests to buy. She got in contact with Nimoy’s granddaughter Dani, who wanted to carry some of Maharaj's work in her memorabilia store Shop LLAP. A few weeks later she had her licensing contract with CBS.
She has sold pieces to people in Canada, the US, Australia, Finland, Scotland, England, Germany, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and one to her homeland of TT.
Her most popular piece so far is Pure Logic, an image of Spock looking directly at the viewer.
Maharaj frequently incorporates a variety of media such as graphite, watercolour pencils, acrylic inks and markers. She said she would take about 30 hours actually painting on canvas, not counting the time looking at images or sketching.
“Sometimes I paint faster, sometimes I paint longer. The pieces are living entities and I don’t know where I am going when I start. And I prefer it that way. Dead art lacks that genuine creativity and life in it. When I start I will be as interested as you are where I will end.”
Through her work Maharaj has had personal interactions with Original Series cast members William Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Nichelle Nichols (Lt Uhura). On October 10, 2019, Shatner contacted her via Twitter and asked her to donate one of her Boldly Go prints, featuring him as Kirk, to his charity to be auctioned off. A CBS representative told her Shatner never asks for anything.
“I took that as a compliment.”
Last month, Shatner asked her via CBS for one of her One to Beam Up prints for his personal collection and also asked her to donate to his charity again.
She met Nichols in Florida in May 2019 at a speculative fiction convention, Megacon. She attended the convention during a stop-over en route to Georgia.
“I did not eat all day. I had not slept. But I remember not caring at all. I was so excited to meet her.
“She’s a sweetheart. I felt like I was sitting and chatting with my grandmother. She was very easy to talk to and very kind. I can tell she likes being with the fans and it is something she enjoys.”
Maharaj recalled when Nichols saw her Lt Uhura piece her eyes got really wide and she said: “You did this? I want a copy.”
She was then hired by Nichols' agent to do an official piece for Nichols' Farewell Convention which was carded for May but was postponed to next year owing to covid19. One of the three pieces from this collaboration was The Kiss, featuring Lt Uhura and Captain Kirk's seminal smooch in the 1968 episode Plato's Stepchildren, which is often regarded as the first interracial kiss on American television.
"Choosing the right moment to capture in The Kiss was important to me. How close should the characters be to present the importance and tension of the moment while still allowing the viewer to feel part of the moment, intimate but not wholly voyeuristic.
"The scene was controversial for several reasons, not just the interracial aspect back in the 1960s, but the question of consent for both characters, that is as valid even today. That second part meant that there was an even deeper exploration for me regarding a person's ability to hold onto oneself in the face of unwanted life experiences. It also meant that I went into the piece knowing that I would likely not please everyone by my choice to pursue this scene on canvass."
Maharaj has also become friends with Chris Doohan, son of the late Montgomery “Scotty” Scott actor James Doohan, and the younger Doohan has commissioned her to paint his version of his father’s character in the award-winning web series Star Trek Continues.
The Final Frontier
This year Maharaj was scheduled to be a guest at three events, but all were cancelled because of covid19.
Next year she is scheduled to be a guest at the VulcanCon convention which is being held in the official Star Trek town of Vulcan, California.
Maharaj’s current licence with CBS covers The Original Series (her personal favourite), the six Original Series movies and The Next Generation (TNG). It is coming up for renewal and she is hoping to expand it to the TNG films and the other spin-off series like Deep Space Nine and Voyager. If her licence is renewed and expanded, Maharaj said she plans to paint Zefram Cochrane from the TNG movie First Contact.
“He has such interesting features.”
With almost 50 Trek pieces (32 of them of Spock) Maharaj is planning to do a coffee-table book including a lot of work that has not been released to fans. And as the iconic Vulcan would say, that is "fascinating."
For more information and to see more of Maharaj's work you can check out her website www.restrospectstudios.ca, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RetrospectStudios.Art and Twitter via the handle @RetrospectStud1.