LOS ANGELES — Is a solo exhibition ever truly solo? Maria Maea’s All in Time highlights the collaborative ways she exists and engages within her community. Using plants and repurposed material, Maea builds film set-like sculptures that relate to storytelling and myth-making; with decades of experience in film production, she understands the invisible labor and processes that happen behind the scenes. And as a Mexican-American and Samoan artist, she wanted to showcase the often invisible, marginalized diasporic experiences and histories that have allowed her to arrive at her “here.”
Maea’s work embodies stories as living, shapeshifting beings that are in relation to plants and other non-human matter. For example, she harvests palm fronds and debris throughout Los Angeles county for use in her sculptures, in which she applies both traditional and innovative weaving techniques. Palm trees were first imported into California with Spanish colonization and the building of missions, then in the 1930s over 40,000 palms were planted in Los Angeles for the 1932 Olympics for beautification efforts and to help with unemployment relief. Mexican fan palms were most commonly used for their affordability and palm fronds are often used in Samoan culture. These trees share an immigrant history and are bountiful resources in Los Angeles, which Maea uses to showcase her own diasporic community and storytelling.
Maea collaborated with her family in the fabrication of works for the show and the installation. Her brother Ramón includes a collaged sound piece comprising exchanges of stories and humor, layered over the siren-like singing of her younger sister Ariel-Evelia Tuilaepa Diaz. The conversations focus on the land back efforts of her family members who speak directly to the erasure and desires of land. The room also includes a Samoan Siapo textile, Tuiga headdress, and woven palm dress, fashions fabricated by Maea’s mother, Susana Tuilaepa’s Taōpo Creations.
In the center of the exhibition is a whirlpool of palm fronds which surround a sculpture of Tuilaepa formed by woven fronds, her facial expression cast in concrete, her hair of moss adorned with a marigold crown. Above her is a cascading chandler-like sculpture of split soda cans. The green 7-Up and red Coca-Cola cans are cut in a way that obscures brand recognition and reimagines the material as repurposed holiday ornaments or decoration. The three sculptures are in relation to one another, representing the interconnectedness of the underworld/water, human/earth, and spirit/heaven realms.
Two other surrealist figurative sculptures, representations of her nephew, Johanon M. Tuilaepa, and brother, Martin T. Tuilaepa, are made with plant and repurposed materials. Held up by a pyramid-like trellis, the Madagascar jasmine vine generates a blooming body for “Untitled (Nephew)” (2022). His concrete head mounts the top of the towering vine and his wax-formed hands peek through, as if to greet gallery visitors. Dried flower arrangements frame his face and body, and cloud-like seeds fall and gather in the corners of the gallery.
“Untitled (Brother)” (2022) is made primarily from dried, brown palm base foliage and corn husks. The face is adorned with spiraled shell eyes, seed pod ears with embedded earrings, and a faded blue hat with “Long Beach” embroidered in Old English font. At the foot of the sculpture is a sprouting onion and squash. Alongside the figure, a giant dried sunflower towers, with a dangling dried starfish.
All in Time carries an intergenerational conversation of a diasporic immigrant community experience and exemplifies the artist’s process, not simply the finished pieces. There is a blending of fragility and strength within her sculptures along with the growth and death in the matter/material used. They, like her weaving, share an intertwined cosmology.
All in Time continues at Murmurs (1411 Newton Street, Fashion District, Los Angeles) through December 17. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.