You started university majoring in Music Performance at McGill and switched to Visual Art, particularly photography, at Emily Carr. How did you make this decision?
Maya de Forest: I always had a camera as a kid and by the time I was in high school I wanted to go into fine arts. But the path to music was kind of laid out for me early in my life. I went to art school about 10 years after finishing my music degree and playing professionally. On top of being underpaid I found the classical music environment stifling, so I was happy to go back to school and start studying something new.
Your other works are also closely related to Canadian identity. Mix Meetings book project, shows mixed race. What would you express through this project and how did you select the people in your work?
Maya de Forest: I did Mix Meetings during an exchange term at CCAC in Oakland, California. I chose the school based on the Bay Area¡¯s prominent mixed race population. I was at that time seeking more clarity in my own identity as a person of mixed heritage. For me the project was really about investigating whether a collective identity exists between mixed people. I basically approached, photographed and surveyed bi and multi-racial strangers on the street based on an unsolicited access and naïve affinity I felt because of a shared mixed physicality. The portraits act as a record of these meetings, while bits of text taken from the surveys explore the very individual ways in which mixed-race people embrace or reject identity. I learned a lot from that project.
When you photographed your models in Mix Meetings, you positioned them with a neutral background, which reminds us of a passport photo. Were there any reasons for using a neutral background?
Maya de Forest: Because I was meeting people on the street, I would usually shoot them wherever we met, so often I would just find the closest neutral background. The intention was for the focus to be on the features of the face more than anything. Being mixed isn¡¯t always that obvious to people that aren¡¯t mixed themselves.
In the same work, a few models are the exception: having a shadow on their faces, or positioned in front of a tree. Was this your intention?
Maya de Forest: It was more about the randomness of location.
Your work uses very simple visual presentation yet contains many layers. In particular, landscape and portrait are important aspects to illustrate your theme. In Canada we have great nature and diverse people. How does Canada play a role in your work?
Maya de Forest: I never thought of Canada really playing a role in my work, but I can see how working with cultural identity themes would be seen as Canadian or North American. I remember showing I love here now in Germany and realizing how differently they look at the work, not having the same immigrant history as we do here. It is still a new concept there, whereas aside from the indigenous population, all other Canadians can relate to the immigrant story somewhere in their family lineage.
In your other project Nippon showing Japanese landscapes and portraits, your approach to is very similar to I love here now, which is about Canada. In some ways, your tone is dark, calm and still whether it is in Canada or Japan. How does having a heritage in two different nations affect you and your work?
Maya de Forest: I¡¯m not sure if I¡¯m really conscious of it. My father is also an immigrant from Switzerland. He moved to Canada with his family when he was 18 and went to school here, so he is much more ¡°Canadian¡± than my mother. He taught Architecture and his mother was an artist so there was always openness to creative thought and expression which I think is very European. But my mother ran the household, so the Japanese side was much more predominant in my upbringing. I think my attraction to simplicity and layers of meaning that you mention definitely comes out of that.
As an artist working on Canadian identity, what has been the biggest challenge in producing and presenting your work?
Maya de Forest: I wouldn¡¯t say that I¡¯m working on Canadian identity per se, but the biggest challenge for me right now is finding the right venue for this kind of work. I¡¯m not certain that many galleries would be interested outside of artist run centres because of its personal nature. At this point I¡¯m just happy to have some good book shops in the States and Europe taking on my book.
You completed book projects three times. Do you prefer the form of books more than gallery presentations and festivals? Are there challenges from mainstream gallery culture due to your subject matter?
Maya de Forest: Honestly I¡¯ve never really had the goal of showing in galleries. When I discovered the book medium it felt right to me and the kind of work I like to make. I like the smallness and intimacy of it. I also like how books give photography another dimension where you can play with sequencing and space to create greater form and meaning.
Do you feel Canadian society is very supportive of cultural issues?
Maya de Forest: I think a lot of it depends on the city, its history and the government that supports it.
What does photography mean to you now and what are your goals?
Maya de Forest: My goals for making art now are not necessarily photography driven. I love photography but I do feel a bit limited by it. I would like to continue making books but I¡¯m also looking forward to working with more mixed media for my next project.
What is your next project?
Maya de Forest: It¡¯s about my father¡¯s brain and how his Alzheimer¡¯s is changing him and his creative output. He cartoons and collages every day and is a force to be reckoned with!
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