Malaya Tuyay

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Malaya Tuyay. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Interview conducted by
Tamara Wachsman (Scripps ‘20)
Maggie Grange (Scripps ‘21)

Malaya Tuyay is an artist based currently around Berkeley and Oakland, California. Tuyay was previously a student at the California College of the Arts, graduating in 2017 with a Bachelor's Degree in Printmaking. Since July of 2015, she has consistently been active in the CCA Printmaking Department, acting as an intern, teaching assistant, gallery assistant, and exhibition preparator. Tuyay is currently an intern at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley as of January 2018. She credits her artistic inspiration with the need to create as a method of combatting effects of grief and depression. She particularly enjoys using printmaking and sewing in her artwork in representation of traditions of marginalized groups. Tuyay focuses especially on the female form, dedicating her efforts to telling the stories of women in her family. Through her art, she hopes to empower her audience by showing that every person has an individual voice that deserves to be heard. You can view Malaya's artwork at

What is your process in choosing which medium to use? Do you start with an idea or a format?

My process often takes many forms, I used to be more drawn to creating work right when an image came to mind and would utilize the process to think more about the concept and why I felt I needed to create this work.  Lately I have been more drawn to thinking out a concept more fully before creating a piece.  Which I admit can become polarizing at times because I begin to think way too much before creating.  But I have decided to stick with this route because it is important to me to be able to know that every detail in my pieces are referencing my concept and I want to make sure my concept is more fleshed out before sharing it with others.  Artists can have a lot of power and impact, so I believe it is important to take that into consideration when creating work. 

What medium do you find best to share your message and ideas?

I think printmaking has definitely changed my work for the better. There is such a powerful history in printmaking of sharing information and stories.  That is why I often have take-away prints for folks at my installations because I want to make art more accessible.  I want people to feel comfortable in gallery spaces and take institutional power out of them.  Being able to take something away from a show that was handmade and free can break that and also spread information in a new way.

How do you share the stories of others (such as the other women in your family) while keeping their personal truth even as it is shaped by your own experiences and artistry?

Often when I reference the women in my family I think about their impact on me. I reference the relationship between a daughter and a mother, or a granddaughter and a grandmother.  I wish to remember the women I have lost in my family in my work as a way to thank them for giving me this opportunity to become who I want to be.  I know I cannot successfully keep their personal truth in tact fully, because my perception has warped with time and my memories of them can be foggy.  But I share their impact on me in my work.  I share what I have learned from them and continue to learn from them.  Something my mom might have told my when I was seven will flash into my mind randomly and mean something completely new to me as a twenty-two year old.  I keep the stories they shared with me and the stories I knew I never got to hear or understand fully dear to my heart.  I know they are the ones who have helped shape who I am today so I try to actively remember them in my work as a way to honor them.

Much of your work is centered on the female form and how it can be used for empowerment.  Do you think that only imagery or also text about the female form can be empowering?

I have been introducing a lot of text in my work lately and I do believe text about the female form and/or experience is very empowering because it can directly share a story or information.  I question the work of Gauguin (i.e. the books Noa Noa and The Writings of a Savage ) and other narrow minded male gazes dominating the institutional art world fetishizing women of color.  But when women write for women (and themselves) to share their experience, it can be a very powerful moment. 

Do you want your audience to reach a specific interpretation of your work or do you prefer for each individual to come away from your work with a different understanding?

I try to make sure the audience takes away a specific idea when I see it to be important.  Often times I will introduce text into some works to be straightforward about messages.  But I also think nuance is a beautiful and powerful thing because it is important to leave space in your content where some can enter with their own experiences.  However, other times it is important to claim this as your own or as the property of marginalized folks and call out ignorance in art spaces.

I think there are times when it is important to have your audience be on the same page as you.  I also believe that the art world can also feel very inaccessible to people who may not have had the visual education to understand it, so sometimes it is nice to aid them and give them an entrance into your work. 

When did you begin to branch out with your art? For example, when and why did you choose to incorporate performance art in your work?

I have always been drawn to trying different mediums; I really appreciate having access to learning many different techniques and processes.  I am not really a master in anything because I am always jumping around and playing with different things.  Only recently (the past year) have I incorporated performance into my work.  I never thought I would perform in my work since I have always been really intimidated by it.  But something about putting yourself literally in your work gives it a specific agency. 

How did you come to the realization that your experience dealing with grief was alleviated by creating art?  Do you remember a turning point or moment of clarity? Are there specific mediums that you find to be more therapeutic than others you have worked with? 

I think it was because the only thing that kept my mind off it was creating anything.  It was a way to meditate about it without it taking over me completely. I don’t think there is ever a moment of clarity with grief, I think you have moments of understanding but I have yet to really believe something just hits you randomly.

You say that you focus on the female body in your art, but is there some extra importance for the symbols of hands and feet? Does the meaning of these symbols shift piece to piece or stay constant throughout?

Often when something is repeated in my work it represents an abundance of or a feeling of being overwhelmed. Hands usually represent the presence of another person, and that the specific experience I am discussing in the piece has happened many times.  For example, in the piece “What are You”, the hands represent the many different people who feel it is their right to touch my skin or ask me what I am.  The hands in that piece represent a feeling of suffocating.  But sometimes the hands can take new form when they are installed.  Sometimes they look very peaceful and free, and I like to attribute that to the power of the makers’ hands.  Hands are amazing things that tell so many stories and I am so appreciative of mine.

In your exhibition entitled To Be Free, you include a handwritten transcription of a poem.  What is the meaning behind the grammar and syntax used within the poem, particularly certain words being capitalized and the positioning of the text on the page?

The capitals form a new sentence when combined.  I thought it would be cute but now I kind of regret it because I feel like it makes me look like I think I’m smarter than I really am (or like I’m trying to be featured in the Da Vinci Code).  I would rewrite the sentence it forms here, but it’s part of the poem to make you take time to write it yourself.  You don’t have to though, I’m pretty sure it is cheesy.

What textiles and materials did you use to create the dress in your To Be Free exhibit? Why did you choose to create a garment?

I used a bunch of scrap fabric from the other pieces in the show and printed the hands on them.  I made the dress from scratch and cut and sewed each hand onto it.  Let me just say, I think I lost some brain cells and a good two weeks of my life on that dress.  But it is where I want my work to head.  I like thinking about the different forms printmaking can take, and this is just one of them.  One day I would like to create costumes and sets for performances that are public.