Making from Memory: Interview with Multidisciplinary Artist Maia Cruz Palileo

This week MD gives you a sneak preview of an upcoming visit to NYC artist Maia Cruz Palileo’s studio to which you’re invited. If you enjoy her interview and want to learn more about her practice and see what she’s been up to in person, check out the event page to sign up. Spots are limited.

Where are you from? What was it like growing up there?

I was born in Chicago and grew up in the suburbs. My parents were very tight with the Filipino community and our house was lively and full of people singing around the piano and choreographing dances to music from Hair and West Side Story. I can explain this more at the visit, but it is the memory that is surfacing at the moment.

When did you start making work about your family’s arrival to America and your childhood in the midwest?

In 2006, I was curious about memories and whether I could retrieve a specific memory by recreating the place of the memory’s origin. I started working on an installation based on my grandparent’s living room, a place where I had strong memories. I eventually ended up converting my studio into a recreation of their living room. In order to do that, I used photos and videos from the 80’s and also reached out to my grandmother and other family members and asked for pictures so I could piece together the entire room. I scanned the pictures for knick knacks, artwork, furniture, anything I could see, I replicated. That installation turned out to be a typical American living room, it could have been anyone’s living room in the 80’s and I was surprised because I thought it was going to be super Filipino. That was how I perceived my grandparents. Turned out they were pretty Americanized, at least through their choice of decor, except for a pair of figurative wood carvings of a Filipino man and woman and family pictures on the mantel. I am not sure what came of my memory experiment, but it got me wondering what it was like to move to America, where they came from, who lived in that living room, what they brought with them to remember their home and how they imparted the Filipino culture to us, the first generation. Did they want to remember it or did they want to leave it totally behind?

I started researching this and talked to my grandmother and the rest of the family who all immigrated to the Midwest and tried to collect as much oral history as I could about what it was like for them growing up, moving to America, all that, because I realized it was important to me to know this, to learn our history in America and the stories were getting woven into my work. That research got me curious about what it was like before they moved. What life was like in the Philippines. As I write this, I am in Manila, on my other grandmother’s farm learning about the other side of my family in the Philippines collecting stories, images, and visiting the homes of my parents and grandparents.

What were you making before that?

I was making sculptures with fabric and other materials like string and cheesecloth and had started experimenting with installation. They were all based on recreating some memory, like a floral comforter, carpet with long strands, a printed wallpaper with a muppets-type felt puppet like sculpture that you could pull strings and manipulate. They were kind of random but I think I was still trying to do the same thing.

You work in so many different media. Animation, drawing, painting, sculpture and installation. It seems that each form is able to accomplish something different. What’s the benefit of using so many different forms? 

Every medium has different ways of revealing themselves. Drawing, for me, is the most direct and raw. Sculpture is different because it is indirect, as in, I have an idea for a sculpture and then it undergoes so many stages from beginning to end that it takes longer and is reliant on the actual process or steps it goes through to come to the final stage. Painting is like that too, but it’s more mysterious and elusive and it feels like the hardest one for that reason, which is why I keep doing it. A lot of the time, all the different mediums influence each other. I used to be hard on myself for jumping around mediums so much, but now I accept this is just the way I like to work, whether I choose to or not, everything leads to the next and it just goes like that.

What are you working on now?

In the studio, I’m working on paintings and some sculptures that I can paint on. Actually at this very moment, I’m in the Philippines until the end of the month. Can’t wait to see what this experience will bring to my work.

For more information about Maia Cruz Palileo visit her website at www.maiacruzpalileo.com .

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2 thoughts on “Making from Memory: Interview with Multidisciplinary Artist Maia Cruz Palileo

  1. Carol says:

    Have you ever done any potter of frogs?

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