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Permeable Narratives and Landscapes of Home: An Interview with Maia Cruz Palileo

Danni Shen, Curatorial Fellow in Visual Arts, organizes and interprets exhibitions at Wave Hill.

Maia Cruz Palileo is a multi-disciplinary artist investigating themes of migration and the permeable concept of home. Influenced by the oral history of her family’s arrival in the United States from the Philippines, and of growing up in the midwest, Palileo infuses her narratives with both memory and imagination: as stories and recollections are subjected to time and constant retelling, the narratives become questionable, somewhere between fact and fiction, even as they remain cloaked in the convincingly familiar. During the second session of Wave Hill’s Winter Workspace 2016, Palileo has been creating new paintings that merge imagined narratives with observations of Wave Hill’s plant collection and grounds.

Join the artist for a Winter Workspace workshop, Fictitious Portraits in Real Landscapes, Thursday, March 10, from 10AM to 1PM. Participants will use their own family portraits and the inspiration of Wave Hill’s landscape to embellish their memories and create new stories through gouache painting. Palileo will demonstrate mark-making, brush work and composition techniques.MCP-1

Danni Shen: Does your work process involve tracing your own migration, or migrations of your family, or even larger diaspora?

Maia Cruz Palileo: While I don’t consciously set out to trace the migrations of my family or of the larger diaspora, it tends to be a by-product of the work because of the reference material I’m using. My paintings are pieced together from various sources—an archive of my family photos mixed up with the landscapes of places where I’ve spent time, including Prospect Park, New Orleans, Manila and now Wave Hill. My family came here from the Philippines and I was born here, so many of the stories I’ve heard had to do with their experience of leaving one country and settling in another. I often think about surroundings and landscapes, and how they shape a person’s experience, connection or disconnection, as well as sense of belonging to a place.

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DS: How much does your work, which ranges across media, involve research and conversation in terms of learning about your family’s oral history? Does it always begin with your own family?

MCP: When I made Lola’s House (2006-07), I asked my family to send me all the pictures they had of my grandparents’ living room, so that I could look at them and re-create as much of the room as I could for the installation. It was through this process that I began to learn more about my family’s history in America. In 2013, I went to the Philippines and visited family who never migrated to the U.S. I went to the homes and sites where my parents and grandparents grew up. That trip was a turning point: I was able to connect with the places and people who I had only heard about in stories and seen in pictures. Many more stories were revealed during that trip that continue to influence what I’m working on now.

DS: In looking to “permeable” notions of home, are you filling in gaps of memory with imagination, or integrating existing narratives?

MCP: My notions of home have changed over the years. In that way, they are breathable, porous and light, rather than dense and impenetrable. I think memory and imagination are the glue for merging existing narratives, and they, too, are permeable, always changing and filled with holes. I am also definitely drawn to hybridity and to mixing worlds and time periods. Many of the characters in my paintings tend to have one foot in two separate worlds.

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DS: So would you say you are primarily a painter?

MCP: Yes, I’ve been caught in the magical web of painting, and am getting more and more entangled.

DS: What few words, or phrase, or sentence would you use to describe your work?

 MCP: A little blurry and dreamlike, like a storm is coming or just passed.

DS: Favorite quote? Or story?

MCP: A few years ago, one of my second-grade students, a boy named Verny, drew this awesome leopard. When I came around and complimented him, he said, “Art is not about rushing, art is about calming.” I always think about getting that leopard and quote tattooed on me.

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DS: Is there a cathartic value to making your work?

MCP: I suppose making work is cathartic in the sense that I would feel crazy if I didn’t do it, but not in the sense of having some kind of immediate psychological release as a result of an inspired night of painting. It’s more of a slow, shy, confused and blind daily grind.

DS: What are your inspirations?

MCP: Other artists are inspiring to me. When I talk to and visit artists and see what they’re up to, I feel inspired. I love New York and the energy here, days when I just roam around and go to the Strand or the Met or Prospect Park for hours, or just walk around and run into someone I know. These things make me feel like I’m a part of something and that I’m really alive. I also like having hobbies that are not related to visual art, things I can be bad at but still enjoy, like gardening, skateboarding and improv.

DS: Are there any elements of Wave Hill that draw you, or particularly interest you?

MCP: The peaceful environment here is such a respite. And I feel open space when I’m here working. I like spending time walking around and looking at all the trees and animals. One day, I watched a hawk eating a squirrel about 12 feet away from me. I’ve also been learning about the Gotham Coyote Project, which uses night-sensor cameras. And I like to spend time in the greenhouses.

DS: Where do you see your practice heading?

MCP: The drawings and paintings I’m making here now will become references and sketches for large oil paintings.
Pictured above, from the top:
Maia Cruz Palileo in studio, working from observation of the Sunporch. Image by Wave Hill
Maia Cruz Palileo, The Seer, 2015. Oil on Canvas. 62 x 96”. Courtesy of the artist
Maia Cruz Palileo, Nochebuena, 2013. Oil on Canvas. 33 x 48”. Courtesy of the artist
Maia Cruz Palileo in studio. Image by Wave Hill

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