Los Angeles

View of “Maria Maea,” 2022. From left: Untitled (Nephew), 2020; Untitled (Brother), 2022. Photo: Josh Schaedel.

View of “Maria Maea,” 2022. From left: Untitled (Nephew), 2020; Untitled (Brother), 2022. Photo: Josh Schaedel.

Maria Maea

“Ancestors turn out to be very interesting strangers,” Donna Haraway once said, arguing that humans are the product of all kinds of earthy assemblages. This notion provided a fitting entry into Maria Maea’s deeply personal and technically impressive exhibition “All in Time,” a bighearted meditation on the present tense and its lived expressions. This show, one of the artist’s most ambitious projects to date, included two wall-based works and four sculptures that were produced with the help of Maea’s mother and brother, Susan and Martin Tuilaepa. (Three of the sculptures function as portraits, which depict both Susan and Martin as well as the artist’s nephew, Johanon Tuilaepa.) A separate installation by Maea and her mother, Taupō Creations, 2022, featured examples of traditional Samoan costume making, a hanging textile, and a sound collage—by the artist and her brother, Ramon Tuilaepa—pieced together from recordings of various family members’ voices. Overall, the show presented a generous, inclusive take on artistic labor and authorship.

“All in Time” examined the sundry and numerous threads that make up one’s heritage, drawing on the artist’s Mexican and Samoan ancestry through various materials, familial customs, and modes of storytelling. Untitled (baskets), 2020–22, for example, was an arrangement of eleven woven vessels that occupied a corner of the gallery, some painted or spilling over with moss and other types of flora. As the show’s accompanying text explained, Maea taught herself traditional Polynesian weaving techniques by watching YouTube tutorials during the pandemic. When one knew this, the sculptural baskets seemed to express more of a longing for connectivity and kinship than a demonstrated mastery of craftsmanship. Other works were similarly born from a sense of honor and love, including the show’s namesake, All in Time, 2022, a portrait of Maea’s mother, her face cast from concrete and suspended in a swirl of dried marigolds and Spanish moss, a giant magnolia seedpod forming a spiral at the top of her forehead. The sculpture’s body was like a tide pool of dried and woven palm fronds, which the artist had collected throughout parts of Los Angeles—specifically Long Beach, where she grew up. Installed under a chandelier of cut and reassembled soda cans, the figure called to mind a female deity manifesting from some grassy realm.

Mythos and time also function as sculptural materials in the artist’s work, much in the same way that plants, concrete, and rebar do. By composing pictures of family with family, Maea produces fragmentary, nonlinear narratives for herself and her relatives, which pointedly work against Western notions of both temporality and lineage. Stories of movement and immigration are rarely ever straightforward, as they encompass histories of dislocation, compromise, violence, grief, and hope. In LA, the palm itself is a metaphor for transplantation and transformation: It was first brought to California in the 1700s by Spanish missionaries, popularized by wealthy Angelenos at the turn of the last century, then embraced by the city in beautification efforts to help generate the image of a new kind of urban oasis. This is not lost on Maea, who expands upon the palm as a symbol of survival, a perennial that can thrive even in hostile, industrial environs. Pyramid of the Magician, 2022, for example, is a mural-scale painting on woven and assembled fronds from the Mexican palm, a tree that grows larger than most buildings in the sprawling SoCal landscape. The work is named after a structure on the Yucatán Peninsula and is associated with a Mayan origin story. The artist’s pyramid is painted in bright, splashy colors with the words MAGICIAN PYRAMID written in graffiti-like lettering on the surface of one palm. An impressive and textured combine, it, like the rest of this show, spoke to the special alchemy of one’s various origins. To return yet again to Haraway, “it matters how kin generate kin.”