Maria Maea is a multi-disciplinary artist working in sculpture, installation, film, music, and performance art. Her work is rooted in the land, as she uses cultivations from her garden. As a sculptor she has molded ice and wax and has worked with clay and soil. As a weaver, she weaves palm fronds, some of which have also come from her garden.
Maea is a first-generation Mexican Samoan. Her parents migrated here – her mother from Samoa and her father from Mexico. So she grew up within various cultures, discovering what it was to have an American dream. Maea didn’t go to school for art but instead as a teenager would meet up with young creative people who were playing music in Long Beach, and she was influenced by them.
Maea’s inspiration comes from nature and plants. “Plants have a body, we mimic it. It mimics us . . . I’ll use corn as a spine and people recognize it because we are mirrors of nature.” During the pandemic she spotted a baby palm tree in her yard and began using palms in her work. The palm, a nonnative, invasive species was imported into California to publicize Los Angeles as a tropical paradise. The palm became a metaphor for her own identity as a Samoan and Mexican artist living in southern California.
Maea gathers palms from her own yard as well as from the banks of the L.A. River, Echo Park, and Long Beach. She uses a traditional Samoan technique to weave mixed-media sculptures from palm fronds, corn husks, dried plants, twigs, and fruits. This repetitive motion became a kind of meditation for her.
She incorporates these weavings with casts of faces and hands of family members. These humanoid sculptures have a fractured element and for her become personifications of storytellers. “I reuse my mom’s face over and over because it’s telling this story about who we are.” Each of these works hold a specific family memory. She takes a dried plant from her garden and makes it into a fishing pole in a sculpture of her brother, a reference to her brother’s work at canneries after coming to the U.S. and her Samoan family’s connection to fishing.
She also uses found objects from city life and places them in larger sculptures or in altarpieces. Maea sees these objects – like her masks – “as personifications, as having the capacity to be storytellers.”
Maea has participated in numerous group sows in Los Angeles Arts District, CAL ARTS University, and REDCAT Theater, among others. For her first solo show in Los Angeles, Maea brought in family members and friends to help weave palms into sculptures in a communal art effort.