In conversation with Ramp Gallery Artist Malaya Tuyay
Q&A written by Rebeca Flores, Curatorial Partnerships Associate

SOMArts caught up with visual artist Malaya Tuyay about her latest exhibition in The Ramp Gallery—PRACTICING MEMORY. Malaya shares her process of making the exhibition, her healing practice, and what memory means to her.

SOMArts: The idea that memory has a genealogy is very present in the work, what memories did you tap into for this body of work?

Malaya: It has to do with the way the child brain works overtime. Especially when you’re protecting yourself from memories that are harmful. So, for me, it was more about trying to tap into memories—period. I specifically tapped into memories of family. Both the hard memories and the good memories and also trying to come back to these stories and memories from a lens of after growing up, sort of outside of being home, and having more of an understanding of everyone’s situation—our situations—we were all trying to do the best we could. 

I think it’s the larger memory of my parent’s existence and how much they pour into the people around them and how much I really wanted to channel and practice memory in order to continue to share the stories of them. Even little memories like going to the store or little things they would say. I think the mind reframes memory and the importance of memories.  Sometimes we tend to rewrite memories and narratives as more time passes. I was sort of interested in the idea of: Why do we do that? I was just trying to practice memory and not hide from them.

SOMArts: What was your process for creating, PRACTICING MEMORY? Was there any limitations and freedoms you took in creating PRACTICING MEMORY?

Malaya: The process was really hard because I was putting a lot of pressure. It’s hard to express years and years of emotion into work, you know? People are going to be seeing it and it’s very personal so, I think it was a lot of back and forth with the work. Prints were going wrong and it was because I was wrapped up in this idea of what it should look like and really wanting to make my parents proud. My mom passed away and not really knowing—there’s no way to know—if she would be proud, you know? So, I think, when dealing with concepts of mourning and people who have passed— I just really tried to find ways of honoring them. In the most honest and raw ways that are super respectful as well because sometimes people don’t really want all of their business out there. How can I respect who they are but share their powerful existences? It was a lot! I definitely cried so many times (laughs) but that’s why art is such a therapy for me and such a blessing in my life. I’m very grateful to have this outlet and to share it with other people. 

SOMArts: Visual Art and Literary Arts are often seen as two separate entities but through the use of letters you combine both arts, what was it like to combine them?

Malaya: It felt really natural for me. One, because there are some things that I couldn’t visualize that were direct words from my mom. And I really wanted to share her wisdom in a true form. Those [letters] are from an old diary that my dad gave to me after she passed and that’s also why some parts are crossed out because I do want to share but also not everyone deserves all of us. Sometimes the public, in terms of, art and stuff, expect full access to all your pain and all your shit and that’s why I think I crossed things out. 

It’s very personal and it also feels very inherent because my mom was more of a literary person and my dad was a visual person so I feel like it just came together in that natural way of honoring those two things they specialize—the things they really felt themselves as. 

For me, it is also about making things more accessible.  Some people don’t really connect with visuals the way they would with words and vice versa. It’s something I’m trying to integrate into my work. 

SOMArts: What is your relationship to healing and wellness? How do you practice healing?

Malaya: It’s been a process and I feel like everyone has their own journey with theirs. After my mom passed away there was a rush of all these people to heal me so they wouldn’t have to witness the pain and there was one side of like: Therapy is not for me, not for us and some of it just wasn’t talked about. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, maybe it’s an accessibility thing, who knows what it is, but therapy wasn’t really accessible or safe when I was younger. I remember some counselors through school saying the dumbest shit and blatant racist things or making assumptions.  I didn’t get the western idea of healing, but now there’s beautiful communities developing that integrate powerful, different cultures into ideas of therapy and healing.  At a younger age though, I think that art was definitely my outlet. That was the way that I could talk about things that I didn’t necessarily have words for. I could just put it into a visual feeling. 

I was thankfully able to talk to some family who understood but a lot of it is taboo. Mental health is taboo, talking about trauma and pain can lead to being gaslit, and it’s just like damn what am I supposed to do with this? A lot of my life I acted like I was fine and then I would just feel it out in my art.  But now, there are so many communities tapping into ancestral healing and the many different ways that we can do it. We don’t have to do the westernized shit. We can deconstruct it for our own communities by our own communities, you know? That’s a beautiful thing I’m witnessing, and honestly, art has really connected me with a lot of healers which I’m really surprised by. I’m so grateful I’m around so many different people who are inherent healers just by existing and going through so many things themselves. There’s so much wisdom.

SOMArts: There are so many elements in PRACTICING MEMORY love, grief, joy, all leading to the raindrops in the middle of The Ramp, it creates a framework for the idea of the manifestation of water which gives life, this is not a question but just to say it was beautiful. 

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