BY ADINAWA ADJAGBODJOU
Thank you so much for joining me, Maya. I would love for you to tell me who you are and how you came to be the person you are today.
I am a professional artist and a small business owner. All my life I have had this love for art and all things creative. I started at a very young age learning how to create, taking as many art classes as I possibly could. I focused on building my skills as well as exploring who and what kind of art inspired me. I found myself inspired by all kinds of techniques and I studied hard to expand my knowledge and skills as an artist. Overall, I think it paved the way for me to become the person that I am now. To this day I am still so dedicated to the craft and learning new techniques. I know I was destined to be an artist…to create, inspire, and empower.
You mentioned starting out on your journey of creativity and exploring it as early as elementary school. What sort of support did you feel and in which ways do you feel you were creatively nourished in order to feel confident while you took on this path and this love?
When I was in elementary school, I expressed my love for art very early on and my parents were extremely supportive. They found art classes and camps to help my curiosity become a passion. I took watercolor, acrylic, pen, and ink classes and even photography classes, which all assisted in growing and expanding my knowledge. So my parents were very instrumental in giving me a foundation that nourished my continued growth.
You mentioned your parents. Are there any other mentors or people who helped guide your journey either when you were younger or more recently that you really appreciate?
My many art teachers in high school and college challenged me in so many different ways: from encouraging me to use different mediums, to their insistence that I go beyond staying safe. My Mentors and Teachers helped to push me out of my comfort zone and consistently allowed me to have that space to find myself through my art.
Seattle has a thriving and supportive art community with so many galleries and events that bring artists from diverse backgrounds and perspectives together. We support one another; sharing information and opportunities and remaining open to collaboration. I’m inspired by so many of the artists I’ve met and appreciate those very amazing, beautiful human beings that continue to hit me up and provide me with new opportunities.
I want to touch on how your identities have played a role in the art that you create but also in just leading you to the profession that you are in now.
I am a black woman and I feel like I have been loved, seen, and heard by black women. Black women have been there to uplift and push me to be the best version of myself. My work focuses on empowering, uplifting, and inspiring black women to be comfortable and confident in their own skin.
I want to provide a space for us to know we are loved and deserve the love we have. I want us to be seen and heard in a world that often places us as invisible. I just want my art to show how powerful, strong, beautiful, creative, and elegant we are.
You mentioned a number of different ways that you have felt seen, heard, uplifted, and empowered. how has your work evolved in showcasing the range of ways you feel connected to yourself and to others as black women? WHat are you currently exploring and how do you think that journey has progressed?
When I first began to create art, I started with Mandalas: these really intricate designs that represent the universe. I felt like they were my way of connecting myself to the universe. While in College, [however,] I expanded my focus, wanting to paint in all of our colors — shifting from Mandalas to black women, our beauty and strength. So now I often create portraits of black women using watercolors, pen and ink, as well as acrylic paint. Most of the time I use acrylic paints because they provide vibrant colors.
I like to place us in positions of power, to identify us as higher beings to show how powerful and incredibly amazing we are. I use a touch of Afrofuturism in a lot of my artwork. I use connections as well: connecting a human to another human, a black woman to another black woman, the world and universe. I find various ways to show our relationships. My art has literally changed from me just making designs to painting human beings — which was a huge shift for me.
You mentioned the community you have now and the ways in which you feel supported; what are some of the ways you don’t feel as supported or what do you think could bridge the gap between where you are now and where you wish to be?
I would love to be able to gain more exposure…to get my art further out into the world. I’m getting my art into galleries and exhibits; but at the same time, I would love for more people to go onto my website. I’d like my artwork to have a positive impact on the world.
Do you feel like there are ways that we can support artists better culturally or socially? For example, through programs or friends or things like that?
Of course, there are many different ways. I live in Seattle, Washington and I’m very fortunate to live in a place that not only supports artists; but uplifts artists, providing opportunities. But yes, there could always be more funding in schools for art and programs, especially to support BIPOC artists — our voices need to be uplifted and empowered.
What kinds of mediums and what techniques do you use to achieve the vibrancy of colors in your work?
I am working more with mixed media. So I have a couple of pieces that include collage, acrylic, paint, pen, and ink watercolor. I select vibrant Acrylic colors for emphasis.
Are there any recent works where you use color in different instances? Are there any colors you find yourself using a lot more recently? Are there any feelings attached to that?
So, this is actually kind of funny to me! I used to hate color paint but I’ve been using it for years now. I love pink because it’s very vibrant. I also use purple a lot and a lot of blues as well, but pink seems to be a focus color for me right now. There’s just something about the color that puts me in awe.
When you’re creating art, is there some sense of yourself that you find in each piece? Even when you’re not, for example, drawing black women and you’re drawing others; do you still find yourself in the whole?
I believe black women have had to fight and find resilience to gain our place in this world. For a time I was creating these pieces about empowering and uplifting black women, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I loved myself. I didn’t feel like I was empowered. I still wanted to do that for other black women through my art. After self care, journaling, and healing work; I found myself at a place of self love. I could finally see myself in my artwork and saw myself for the first time. I want every black girl and woman to feel empowered and inspired to love themselves. That is the goal.
Has there been any experience where a work that you’ve created has meant a lot to someone else that has resonated with you?
One recently: I went to a drag show and I was the featured artist and I was so very supported and uplifted. I felt empowered not only as a black woman, but also as an artist.
When you’re creating these different settings and contexts and these goddesses, are you thinking about the different types of people who could be represented in the art?
Yes, definitely; and as a dark skinned black woman, I love focusing on dark skinned black women. We are often left out, but I do focus on the vastness of black women as well. There will always be more ways for me to grow and more to explore. I want all of us to be seen.
What ways has your work made you grow as a person aside from as an artist?
My work has aided my self-discovery and self-realization. I feel that none of it would have been possible without my art. Art challenged me to move through fears and grow. Using pen and ink was a safe place for me, but I knew I had to challenge myself to do more.
How did you tackle the healing process? What challenges did you face during the process and how did you navigate them?
At the age of 11, I had a stroke and I had to basically relearn how to talk, relearn how to walk, relearn how to do all these things that 11-year-olds should know how to do. It was very difficult for me to wrap my head around the situation and I had to work to heal. Art helped me get to that place of healing. Prior to my stroke I wanted to be a dancer and the stroke paralyzed me on my left side. With physical therapy I regained my ability to walk and even run but my focus shifted– I could place my emotions into my artwork and found that to be very healing.
Since you are an artist based on the process in order to heal and grow, is there any message you would like to share on your journey or the importance of self-introspection? Particularly with those who may not be an artist?
I would say to other artists that it is important to provide yourself with space and time to be quiet, giving yourself twho am I now? Who do I want to be? Who is the person that I want to be? I don’t know if this is for everyone, but this helped me out. Meditation helped me out. Yoga helped me out. Acupuncture helped me out…all these things. I’m not here to promote any of that, but I’m just here to help…it helped me, so it might help everyone else, you know?
But just sitting and trying to get to know yourself…getting to understand Ime for ideas and inspiration to come. It’s also good to ask yourself questions that cause introspection. I feel like those kinds of steps are very important when it comes to self understanding, self realization, and self love.
You are obviously a goddess, but how did that theme come to the forefront? What was its meaning then and has it changed?
Thank you! Again, I just want to inspire and empower us to feel comfortable and confident in our own skin. I want to inspire us to imagine a life beyond the confining structures in which we currently live. To help us understand that we are powerful beings and we deserve love, light, happiness; and most of all, to be seen.
Do you have any non-binary individuals in your life that have empowered you embrace these gender-focused themes in your work?
There are a lot of human beings in my life that are just so loving and who continue to uplift and inspire me. I am so very grateful to have each one in my life.
Do you have a piece that really resonates with you that has a message you would like to share?
The art piece, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” speaks the most to me now. I love the connection of having this woman with a huge afro, a moon nearby, wearing these people on her that in a way says, “I am not them, but they are in me. They live within me and my soul.” That’s really what the piece says to me and I think that’s truly powerful.
I use the moon to connect us to the universe, but also use it to represent love, and light.
You mentioned what you want and how you hope to evolve. I was wondering, regardless of time, where do you hope to see yourself?
I am a Professional Artist and I want to have my artwork in different galleries around the country and around the world. That is goal number one. Overall, I just want to be known for being an artist that inspires black women to be comfortable and confident in their own skin: “This is Maya and she inspires black women. She empowers black women! This is her life’s work.”