Episode 40: Maya Stovall

(un)making

Episode 40: Maya Stovall

By Weston Teruya May 1, 2019

Weston Teruya welcomes artists, arts administrators, and cultural workers of color to get real about their lives, practices, and careers. Each episode is an in-depth look into how art gets made, but more importantly how these folks are seeing to the system of art’s (UN)making.


We close out the third season of the podcast with a conversation with Maya Stovall, a conceptual artist and anthropologist whose work deploys choreography, long term site research, experimental ethnography, and moving and still images to unpack the complexities of community survival, institutional disinvestment, and urban planning. Her layered approach comes through in the multimodal ways she speaks about her work, shifting between dense theory as almost poetic language, to a direct revelation of the pain and frustration in seeing how her family’s neighborhood has been rendered as a food desert with only liquor stores to serve them. Stovall is perhaps best known for her ongoing project, Liquor Store Theatre, an ongoing and long term exploration of her Detroit community. In video documentation of her artistic and anthropological dialogues with residents, we see her both performing in front of the city’s ubiquitous liquor stores and interviewing patrons and passersby, a juxtaposition of footage that manages to be revelatory while still withholding some things only for the people in the city who happen to be there to witness the live events. In her process, Stovall simultaneously interrogates ethnographic traditions and the expectations of artists in public practice. In our conversation, we talk about the roots of her practice, vulnerability, and resisting having her work being pinned down to any one reading of it.

Stovall’s Under New Ownership, a solo exhibition jointly presented by Fort Mason Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute, is on view through May 5, 2019. She will be enacting Theorem, no.1, a public performance winding through the streets of San Francisco on May 3, 2019. Click here for more information. 

Maya Stovall is a conceptual artist and an anthropologist, and she has exhibited in the 2017 Whitney Biennial and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s 2017–18 F-Series. Her book, Liquor Store Theatre, arrives from Duke University Press in spring 2020. Her second book on the imprint, Writing Through Walls, co-authored with her brother Josef Cadwell, is forthcoming. She has published peer-reviewed academic articles on her anthropological field research and her contemporary art practices in Transforming Anthropology and Journal of the Anthropology of North America, as well as in publications including Detroit Research Journal and The American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Anthropology News. She lives and works in Detroit where she grew up, as well as in Los Angeles County, where she is an assistant professor at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly), Pomona.

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