Artist of the Week

Maya Ben David

October 10, 2019

Maya Ben David (MBD) is a Toronto based video performance Jewish-Iranian Anthro Plane. Ben David creates worlds and characters that explore concepts such as anthropomorphism, cosplay and performative personas. Ben David's characters origin stories are established via video performance and are performed on a ongoing basis through her online presence. Her characters inhabit alternate universes but also interact with each other and already established nostalgic universes such as Pokemon and Spider-Man. In addition to this, Ben David is also a character know as "MBD" who feuds with the many manifestations of herself and the art world.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

My name is Maya and I am a video and performance artist. I make characters about inanimate objects around me, objects that people often dismiss or dispose of. My characters take the form of cosplay, illustrations, live performances, videos and plushies.

What are some recent, upcoming, or current projects you’re working on?

Recent: I recently had a show at Samara Contemporary where I screened my film Mold Maid and did a live performance.
Here is a Youtube video on how to find four leaf clovers I just finished: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=gtozWVR8LU4&lc=z22mch1p2yfijzatgacdp430p3rqg11acwjxlc3hy1lw03c010c

Working on: Snake Girl’s Hyperbolic Time Chamber. A wrestling musical film about a snake girl who is trapped in a Nazi operated laboratory that she is desperately trying to escape. I am in the editing process now and will be looking to have studio visits soon.

Upcoming: Fire Yourself – a live performance where MBD (thats me) hires an HR specialist to fire all her characters. This performance is in collaboration with artist Iain Soder of the collective Tough Guy Mountain.

Who are some of your favorite characters to embody?

It really depends on what I am into at the moment. Each of my characters is a particular obsession. You can’t just jump into the centaur-state-of-mind. I do however, like wearing Air Canada Gal the best, simply because the fabric has always felt like a perfect fit to me.

Your work so effortlessly moves between a fine art context and cosplay/character design culture, how do you situate your work among, between, or outside of them?

I try my best to jump around different worlds. I do my own thing mostly and I know enough art rules to be able to stay in context of an art space. For artists, I can talk about my work in terms of “the grotesque”, representations of the femme form, simulacra, cuteness as a feminist stance, female sexuality in science fiction, mythology, uncanny valley…the list goes on. In terms of cosplay and furry communities, my work is pretty ugly, I work on the outskirts of those worlds but I am a big fan and am always happy to be understood in those contexts. Typically, people who stumble upon my videos on YouTube have no idea what is happening and react in mixed ways. I am working to change that by adding videos that humanize myself. My favourites are people who I find online who actually come in contact with the objects I dress up as i.e fibreglass insulation, Popcorn ceiling stucco. They send me cute photos of weird mold and creepy renovated houses and that is nice for me.

Similarly, your work is obviously humorous but entirely genuine; you fully transform into your characters when performing. Are your characters extensions of yourself or are they separate from yourself?

All my characters have my bratty personality and express the things I was feeling at the time of making them. Sometimes I revisit the characters and they are older and going through new things.

How do you think Instagram/the internet informs your work and the larger art world in general?

For some reason my Instagram followers really love videos where I am just in my costumes and doing every day human things. For example, snake girl rowing a canoe. I might not have made these small videos if it weren’t for instagram but it helps me get on the explore page and keeps people updated on my life.
Images rein supreme on Instagram so lots of artists try and make their work instagram friendly. Which makes sense, I follow all my favourite artists on instagram and it’s how I feel connected to them. Most of them live around the world so I wouldn’t be able to see their work in person. The downside is, people aren’t rewarded as much for making large long-term art works. It doesn’t pay off in the same way which is a big shame.

Can you elaborate on who Mold Maid is?

Short story: a nanny who, with repeated exposure to mold children, has grown into a mold- being herself.

Long story: A character and body of work in dedication to a bottle of hair conditioner I have had for over 4 years which has magically never run out. Consequently, from years of sitting in my washroom, this bottle of conditioner has mold covering it that cannot be removed. I find the mold’s resilience charming and it doesn’t hurt that it has a marking of mold shaped like a heart.

In my Mold Maid film, the moldy bottle inspires a bratty teenager (played by myself) who wants to get rich fast by selling the ever-lasting conditioner. We find out later that this bratty teen is actually being taken care of by a anthropomorphic version of her moldy bottle (also played by myself). The story develops a bit further in my most recent rendition of Mold Maid. I perform as the Mold Maid in her natural habitat and sing a song about what it’s like being a nanny.

Photographed by Jamie McMillan
Photographed by Jamie McMillan

What is your artistic process like?

I find something that I am obsessed with or think is special: four leaf clovers, sexy airplane drawings online, the popcorn ceiling stucco in my apartment etc. — and I investigate. I might make some drawings or figurines of it and try and make it into a character. I then make a costume of it and try and figure out how they relate to me and how I could perform them.

What’s the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you and why?

There is this Toronto collective called “Life of a Craphead” run by artists Amy Lam and Jon McCurley and they used to run this performance show called “DOORED” every couple of months. The performances were only 7 minutes long but all extremely special and freaky in their own way. Going to a DOORED show felt like you were going to the Quidditch World Cup, everybody crammed into a this space to see this very special thing happen.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

My mom (Helena Ben David), Tea Strazicici, Marta Strazicici, Christina Gigliotti , Iain Soder, Jen Chan, Cat Bluemke, Paul Esposito, Jessica Eisner (Meagerbeaver) , Claudia Slogar Rick, Walter Scott, Ryan Wohlgemut, Alvin Luong, Tobias Williams, Janet40 (collective), Tough Guy Mountain (Collective), Natalie Wynn (YouTuber)

What is your studio/workspace like?

In me ol’ bedroom! I don’t like people snooping and looking at my screen when i’m doing important research on furries. I am also sound sensitive so I can’t share a studio with noisy people.

What do you want a viewer to experience when they see your work?

I want them to smile and feel like they can somehow relate to a character that they had no idea they could ever have a connection too. I want them to feel as immersed as when they are watching a movie or anime.

Can you talk about the children’s art program you started?

I started an artist residency for kids this summer. How it differs from an arts camp is in the involvement and agency each child has in what they make. At the beginning of each session I ask them three questions:

  1. What materials do you like working with?
  2. What materials are you interested in working with?
  3. If you could do any huge art project what would it be?

I work with this information to get the specific supplies that would facilitate each student to be able to make their dream project and explore new mediums. Kids are serious about their art when they are in control of what they are making. This year we remade dolls by removing their factory makeup and making doll costumes, filmed a murder mystery, made an enormous slime, sculpted an abstract elephant and lots more.

Do you collect anything?

No I hate other peoples things in my room. I do however, bring special nostalgic objects from my childhood house to my studio. I collect kisses from my partner and things I find on the ground that I can gift to people later.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

-Stop making so many lists. -Only date someone that you zing with, no exceptions. -90% of being a dad is just showing up. (I substitute “dad” for “success”) -Hemp hearts and Maca powder are great additions to your morning smoothie -Movement is medicine -Yoga With Adriene -Nobody cares, so order that morphsuit and be yourself