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  • Maya Freelon Asante
  • Charles H. Rowell

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Courtesy of Morton Fine Art. Photograph by Greg Powers.

Portfolio of Artwork 896-898

[End Page 801]

Maya Freelon Asante begins her artist statement with a brief recollection of a pivotal moment in her early efforts to make art. Her recollection of that moment reads as an epiphany occasioned by paper and color, an optic circumstance of chance, a moment for which she might always be grateful to her grandmother, an encounter that offered an incomplete directionscore for her as a visual artist, which ultimately connected—if only spiritually—to the dis-remembered ancestors, however distant in time and place:

In 2005 I discovered a stack of brightly colored tissue paper tucked away in my grandmother’s basement. After unfolding the tissue, I noticed that water leaked onto the paper and left an intricate stain. This event inspired a shift in my creative process. Since then I have worked with “bleeding” tissue paper, witnessing its deterioration. Tissue Ink Monoprints are created by saturating the tissue paper with water, thus releasing the ink from the fiber; the tissue is then pressed on to a heavy weight paper, which absorbs the bright ink permanently. The Tissue Ink Monoprints represent a recorded history of formation, which pays homage to the stains it now bears.

I contemplate global issues of war, poverty, waste, ageing, and beauty, searching for what fuels our desire to preserve or protect. Giving reverence to my ancestors and meditating on the beauty of now, my art represents the freedom to create challenging work with an objective of universal peace and understanding. The peace starts with the community in which I’m sharing my work; interaction is ever present and essential.

Tissue Ink Mono/Photo prints pay homage to what once was, while simultaneously taking us to places we have yet to consider. The vivid, blended colors reminiscent of photo emulsion melt the line between past and present.

My artwork provides a platform for exploring the dichotomy between the ownership and appropriation of found imagery. Shrouded in the vivid, intricate stains of the monoprint, the photograph remains an unidentified relic, the imperfections textured memories of what once was.

Anonymous photographs elicit a desire to find relevance in the subject. Still seeking an honored space in history, African American imagery is particularly striking to me as I try and make sense of my own existence in a vast Diaspora. Feeling a kinship through archival photos comes from a disjointed history and desire to connect to ancestral icons. Tissue Ink Mono/Photo Prints allow me to connect to the past, while simultaneously affording me the freedom to write my own history.

That moment of encountering the colored tissue paper in her grandmother’s basement also served her well in the composition of her artist statement. It led her to ruminate on what she does, how she does it, and why she does it in the production of art. In my August 2015 interview via email with her, she tells us what kind of work she produced before she discovered the aesthetic value of bright tissue paper.


Will you briefly describe the kind of work you were doing before you encountered the many colors of tissue paper in your grandmother’s basement? That moment seems to have been the beginning of a major turning point in your artistic practices. [End Page 802]


I primarily worked in oil painting, photography, digital manipulation, and mixed-media sculpture before discovering tissue paper as a creative medium. My earlier artwork consisted mainly of autobiographical self-portraits with personal identity narrative. When I started the graduate program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I moved in with my grandmother and she became a central figure in my creative process. Her life, her sacrifices, and her treasured relics were a constant source of inspiration.


What led you to create installations and performances? What do they offer you as an artist that painting and collage and sculpture do not? Have the reception of these new forms affected your relationship to your audience?


I come from a family of performers, so...


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