PP1.3. Maria Do Anderson

Dylan Cale Jones: Hello, everybody. My name is Dylan Cale Jones.

Isa Rodriguez: And I'm Isa Rodriguez, and this is Practice Practice.

Dylan Cale Jones: Today, we are in the studio of Maria Do Anderson, in Norman, Oklahoma. We are super excited to be here. Maria, can you please introduce yourself?

Maria Do Anderson: My name's Maria Do Anderson. I am a Vietnamese American artist. I was born and raised in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I've lived several different places in my adult life, but I've been here since 2011. Someone can do the math. 13 years?

Dylan Cale Jones: A long-ish time.

Maria Do Anderson: Yes.

Isa Rodriguez: So we'd like to start out hearing a little bit about your experience of creativity as a young person.

Maria Do Anderson: Growing up, in my house, it was very strict. I wasn't allowed to go out and do things with friends very often. I think that's what led my sisters to take on these domestic, needlepoint, quilting sort of things. I had always tried to keep up with the crafts that my sisters did, but I'm nine-ish, nine-and-a-half years younger than my oldest sister.

And I just was not at the level with, like, manual dexterity. So, you know, drawing was definitely my main go-to at that period. But, I was really into art as a child. Making things all the time. Seeing my sisters make things. My parents never saw the use in it. They're like, "Oh, you know, you got to get a job, make money." 'Cause they're immigrants. They wanted us to be successful, you know, at least not on the streets. Right?

Isa Rodriguez: And like stable, right? They wanted stability for you, it sounds like.

Maria Do Anderson: Absolutely. But how that came off when I was younger was they're discouraging me from pursuing an art career. Despite my parents, not really supporting me, I applied for and got into a bachelor of fine arts program at the University of Miami in Florida. I went there and it was such an amazing experience. I learned so much of the formal aspects of art there. And then near the end of my time there, in my first year, traumatic events occurred and I was, in a way, forced to move back home.

I, I wasn't forced, but I was cut off financially. So, yeah, I moved back to Oklahoma and I was going to The University of Oklahoma and I was not getting support from my family about art. Even being in the art program at OU, I very much felt like an outsider because I was a transfer student. And with all these things combined, you know, fueled in part by my depression, all of that, I just quit. And the funny thing is I majored in anthropology, which will not get you a well-paying job, very ironic.

But I'm grateful that I graduated with a degree in anthropology because it really informs my practice now. How I see people, and understand people, and want to know how people are related, how relationships work, especially with the dynamic of my family, which shows up in my art a lot.

Isa Rodriguez: Yeah. And I think something that's important to take a moment and reflect back to you is dropping out of art school is pretty normal for creative people . College is really hard for a lot of people. I know that my mental health was at its lowest during college. And I went straight through five years of undergrad and then two years of grad school and those seven years... Was the least healthy that I've ever been . It was really my low point. I mean, I barely, barely made it through. Right. And so that's pretty normal. I think a lot of creative people actually feel really stifled in that environment. But we put such a premium on getting that degree that we don't see a lot of people talking about quitting. Right? And Dylan, I know one of your really close friends quit art school too.

Dylan Cale Jones: Yeah and he's a successful artist on his own terms. And I think something that I'm hearing too, and maybe this reflects your experience or maybe it doesn't, but for me, it can be really hard to make art in a space where I don't feel like I have a sense of belonging.

Maria Do Anderson: Oh, yeah.

Dylan Cale Jones: Yeah, like I don't feel safe being myself then I don't feel safe making my art in a way that is authentic and meaningful.

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah. Not feeling a sense of belonging or community, then why pursue it, right? Mm hmm.

Dylan Cale Jones: Yes. So you stopped majoring in art at OU and you changed to anthropology.

Maria Do Anderson: Yes. You know, I was still on this journey of trying to receive love from my parents and my family in ways that they told me that I could be respected and loved, right?

I graduate in 2009 like a year after the financial crisis. There were no jobs I was getting rejected from grocery stores from barista positions, anything, you know. So what I ended up doing was signing up for AmeriCorps VISTA. Which, if you haven't heard of it, it's like a domestic Peace Corps.

I was really lucky in that I got a position with a health clinic in Oklahoma City. I spent that year evaluating a teen pregnancy prevention program that wasn't quite working. We, we revamped it. I did a lot of research into different communication styles with teenagers. I hired an educator. But yeah, so I helped establish the teen clinic. I managed that program and we opened it up and it's still running. Yeah, yeah, it's still running.

Isa Rodriguez: And I mean, to me, that sounds like really creative, right? Like that you're needing to take a whole lot of information and then come up with solutions that are new.

Maria Do Anderson: Exactly, exactly. Definitely in my life, I can see there's a thread of problem solving and really wanting to understand underlying issues.

So from there I got into a grad program at University of Kentucky... and it was a mistake. Like, I'll just say it. It was a mistake. I wanted the doctorate, right? To like, so my parents could be proud, but I was like pushed into this position that I was not ready for. And it was funny, all the other first year students that had different advisors are like, "Oh, just take your time get acquainted with a program, you know, we'll we'll talk about your concentration later." My advisor was like, "Here's a list of a hundred books. You need to Read them and write synopsis on them by December." in addition to all my coursework, yeah, so I had a mental breakdown.

Dylan Cale Jones: Yeah. Yeah. As one would, if they were put in that position, that sounds like a ton of pressure.

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah. A ton of pressure. And then, you know, I think when you're so young, you're just like, okay, one foot in front of the other. People are telling me this is what I need to do in life. So this is what I need to do.

Isa Rodriguez: There's not very much space to stop and think about whether it's what you want to do, right? And we don't build that in young people. We don't build that into their education. We really teach them to just stay on the path, don't question it, you'll get through it, you know?

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah. And there's... there's so many paths out there. There's so many paths out there. I realize now with my depression, I did not feel strong enough to say to my parents, "This is not what I want. I don't want this path anymore. I still want you to love me even though I'm not doing this."

I, I couldn't do it. And so, yeah, I tried to kill myself and ended up in a psychiatric ward and dropped out. Which is the insane part. When I dropped out and I was, you know, tying up all the loose ends in Kentucky, I went to talk to my professor, and she goes, "Yeah, grad school is hard. Isn't it?"

Isa Rodriguez: Wow. What an inconsiderate thing to say to someone who's clearly in a really tough spot.

I mean, it makes sense that you would have a mental breakdown and that kind of situation. That sounds so intense and like impossible.

Maria Do Anderson: Right. And on top of that, I was in another state. I had no support network. To me now looking back on it, I can see the importance of community and networks of support. And I feel like the artist community in Oklahoma City and Norman is just full of support. And you know, everyone has each other's back, which is a totally great place to be. And I'm so grateful.

Isa Rodriguez: But you said that you rekindled your relationship with your creativity and art. In response to this, right? Like as part of the healing process, right? And so I'd love to hear about that a little bit.

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah. So after I quit grad school, I moved back in with my parents because I wasn't stable enough to even hold a job at that point. I was just so up and down. I was getting mental health support services from the state of Oklahoma, which, if you have no income, you can get mental health services for free. So go talk to your county health department.

Dylan Cale Jones: Oh, that's great.

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah. So once I got stable enough, I started working at Walmart as a cashier, which let me tell you... great joy in life. My parents had a convenience store when I was growing up and there's just something so great about stocking shelves, and making them look neat, and people buying the stuff off them. I don't know. It's, you know, it's one of those jobs that you can do and be done and see the progress in your work.

Dylan Cale Jones: Something that's really important to point out is you're doing this job that people demean and look down upon, but you're doing something that feels really satisfying.

Maria Do Anderson: Oh, absolutely. They're like easy wins. So while I was working at Walmart, living with my parents I started getting into hand embroidery and that snowballed into, well, I want to put this embroidery on something. Oh, let's make a pillow. Now I'm sewing by hand. There's got to be a better way. So I saw there were sewing lessons locally. So I signed up for sewing lessons. And that art therapy of taking something 2d and making something out of it and seeing the result right there in your hand... there's just something so satisfying to that and so amazing. So yeah, I went on sewing everything for the next 10 years.

Isa Rodriguez: Yeah. When we first met you, you were wearing this like amazing gold piece with big puffy sleeves and lots of ruffling, like volume, so much volume. It was really sculptural. I remember thinking that that was really amazing and then I found out that you made it yourself for your opening. And I was like, "Wow, this is great!" You looked so happy and radiant in your piece that you made for yourself.

Maria Do Anderson: Oh yeah. Thanks so much. Yeah, I love making clothes. I need to make more time for it. With my installation, it was so much work, and we're talking about my sculptural installation, Honor Thy Mother, which you can see on my website and my Instagram.

Isa Rodriguez: Let's explain it kind of briefly too.

Maria Do Anderson: Sure. It's about seven foot, maybe... eight foot by seven foot by six foot booth that's enclosed on all sides of the red velvet curtains. I made handmade rosary bead curtains. And when you enter the booth you can hear Gregorian chanting and me praying in Vietnamese. The focal point is this very large embellished portrait of my mother.

And there's a kneeler that you kneel on and I hand embroidered an anatomical heart with motifs from the sacred heart of Jesus. I was raised Catholic, so there's a lot of inspiration there. But there's, you know, the crown of thorns around it, the cross in it, but I also beaded the kneeler. So, when you go to honor my mother, you kneel on the kneeler and it hurts.

Isa Rodriguez: Oh yeah. Cause it's got these like big beads that really dig in. Yeah. Yeah.

Maria Do Anderson: And you're right. It's about that point in my life about trying to be who my mom wanted me to be and, you know, crushing myself in the process.

So I sewed a dress that matched the installation and wore it to the opening. The installation was so much work that I was like, okay, it's a stretch goal. I envisioned in my mind I want this really puffy, ridiculous dress to wear, and it's a stretch goal, but if I get these pieces done by this date, I'll have five days and I can make it and I did it. And that was so fun. I did a little performance in it. I like that performative nature of It's not just this piece, but I'm part of it, too.

Isa Rodriguez: Mm hmm. A lot of your work is so personal to you right? So you're really drawing from your own personal relationships.

Maria Do Anderson: But it always surprises me when people are like, "Oh my gosh, your dress matches!" And I'm like, "Yeah, I made it." And they're like, "What?!" Because I guess I've been sewing so long, you know, making a dress isn't that big of a deal. You, you guys can do it. You know anything, anything you want to do, you can do it. There's learning steps along the way.

Isa Rodriguez: Well, and I think also so many people as they're preparing for exhibition, everything goes into the piece and it sounds like you really reserved some of your energy to prepare something that you made mostly for yourself.

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah, that's real. With other openings I've had before I always get super anxious and freak out. Like, I know people will be taking pictures and, you know, struggling with body image issues. So I always had like, huge anxiety before openings because I felt like I had to be perfect.

But in me making a dress for myself, fitting it to myself and kind of putting on this costume, I didn't have any of that, you know, I was just happy to be there and play. It's definitely something I'm going to keep doing.

Dylan Cale Jones: I think that's such a cool contrast to the experience of the piece, of like being in pain trying to satisfy somebody else, and then being in a state of joy and pleasure and ease doing something for yourself.

Maria Do Anderson: That's real. Yeah, that's real. Cause I think. With my PTSD, I get dragged into the past a lot in my thoughts. Which really informs my art, but my therapist and people around me always remind me like, Maria, look at where you are.

Like, I'm also still a part of my mother. She is still a part of me. Which younger me would be like, no, get as far away as possible. But you know not only genetics, the experiences that she had passed down to me in certain ways. I have to figure out what I'm going to do with that. You know, is it, is it something I hold in and bury, or is it something I try to excavate and understand.

Dylan Cale Jones: It sounds like that's a big part of your practice in general.

Maria Do Anderson: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Jacqueline Mendecov is a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago that really pushed me to dive into what kind of art I wanted to make. She was mentoring me and we're trying to find out what my focus was who I am and what I want to express in my art. And unfortunately for me, a lot of my life is processing the trauma I've been through and finding avenues of forgiveness are ways to live my life that contain less pain. I think these strained relationships that I have with people, you know, my family, my mother I really wanted to explore those. And you know, I wish I didn't have any trauma and I could just, Oh, what, who am I? Bunnies. I'm just going to paint bunnies. All the time. Like, that would be great.

Dylan Cale Jones: Who am I? Bunnies.

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah. Just soft. furry, innocent.

But I think at the time I was no contact with my mom. And then the summer I was trying to figure out what kind of art I wanted to make we got back into contact because there was a big family party and, you know, my parents happened to be there. And I just saw so much growth. And I was like, okay, I see you're trying and I'll try as long as you try.

And I went over to their house for the first time in years. They're retired at this point, different, totally different people without the stress of work. They are like, the cutest old couple now. My dad just gardens outside, my mom goes and picks the vegetables and fruits and cooks them up. And then they've got like chickens and quails. You know, I got this really overwhelming sense of I wanted my mom. I wanted my mom so bad.

She couldn't be who I needed... and still can't. I think it's still difficult for her because of all the things she's been through because of things in the past. But if I could put on my anthropological lens, I could ask them questions about their lives in a way an interviewer might. And from those answers, like, so much new information that sheds a different sort of light on things. So it's been really a healing journey. But I process a lot of those emotions through my art. When I was younger, I didn't have space to express my feelings. Like you were not supposed to express feelings in my household. So I see this trend now in myself where even, even now, you know, sometimes it's really difficult for me to pry things up and talk about them even with my therapist, but somehow I can say it through art.

Oh! I thought of something with my family that's full circle. This is not answering your question...

Dylan Cale Jones: That's fine. That's fine.

Maria Do Anderson: The first gallery show I got into in like 15 plus years, was Fiberworks, I think 2022 in Tulsa. And it was such a huge deal for me, and I had to tell my mom. And there are portraits of her and I took her to see it. And she was just so blown away. And she's like, so proud of me now. My family's so proud of me for being an artist. You know, I talked a lot of shit before about how they weren't supportive, but it's come around.

Dylan Cale Jones: So Maria, where is your practice going now? Like what do you anticipate or notice changing in your practice?

Maria Do Anderson: Oh my goodness. Well, as you both know, I am surprise pregnant.

I mean, not quite, obviously we were trying, but I didn't think it was going to happen. But that has thrown a wrench into things. So yeah, pre-baby, I was like, all right, I've got these projects I'm going to work on. I'm going to do three shows this year. I know exactly what they are, if I get in, you know, applying to them. I applied to grad school. Yeah. It's a low residency program. So I was like, okay, I got that plan out. It's good. And now I have a child growing inside me.

Isa Rodriguez: Yeah. This whole other creative project, right. That's going to take like a ton of creative energy.

Maria Do Anderson: Right. And I'm interested to see how it changes my work since so much of my work is about me and my mother. Oh my God, there's another generation, you know, but I think the most surprising thing the thing that really took me out is how physically ill I have been. I'm a little over two months pregnant and have been sick, very sick most of those two months.

And so it's been really hard mentally to accept that this is where I am at right now. And I'm unable to be as productive in the studio as I wish I could be. 'Cause I am, I am productive making organs. I am making intestines and eyeballs right now.

Dylan Cale Jones: Yeah. You're doing the most creative thing right now. You're creating a whole living being inside of you.

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah. And so with the shows I've wanted to apply to, I've kind of had to be creative and change gears and be like, okay, what finished work can I submit to these shows? Cause I don't know. The doctors say in a few weeks I should be feeling better. And some women tell me, no, they were sick their whole pregnancy.

And I, you know, I've been in a place where I've pushed my body so hard producing art that I would have back pain for days. I couldn't walk without pain and I couldn't sit without pain. And so I've had to learn how to be kind to my body. You know, with this pregnancy, with a child that will be here, things might just have to pause. And that's okay.

During my artist talk at OU last month, they asked us about advice for young artists. And Amena Butler was amazing and she said, "Your path in life is not linear... especially as an artist." And Amena said, "There'll be times, maybe even years of your life, where you can't make art because something comes up health-wise, or you're having to take care of an elderly parent. And that's okay. You know, like you will find your way back to it. You know, that's all right."

And I do have this underlying fear. Like, "I'm on a roll, baby. Like just let me keep going. Let me get into grad (school). Let me get that paid for it. Let me just, let me just do it." But, you know, there is life outside of art, right? I have a husband, I've got other relationships to take care of and as freaked out as I am about being pregnant, I am really looking forward to raising a child. It sounds so weird. But yeah, I've been having to do a lot of acceptance of where I am.

The special thing about being an artist is we know what we love. And we know what we're drawn to. So even if our life gets tumbled around like crazy, arts are North star. We know what to return to when it's time. So I'm trying to trust in that right now for sure.

Isa Rodriguez: Yeah. And thinking about being able to create art long term, right? When we really zoom out and think about the long view when our practice looks different for a few years, or is sort of dormant I try and imagine myself when I'm 80! And then think, you know, it's going to seem so small when I look back on it from a far vantage point.

And at the same time we also only have this time for sure. Right? Like hopefully I'm 80. We only have this time for sure. And so kind of balancing. What's creative today? What's enough today? Not letting myself get stuck in like, "I have to do it now or it'll never happen."

Maria Do Anderson: Yeah, that's so real. When I first started getting back into art, in the year 2021, I was like, "Oh my God, I wasted so much time." and I think part of that was because I still wasn't confident yet. And the more I started making, the more shows I started doing I realized that this was the perfect time to get back into art. 'Cause now I have so many weird skills under my belt, you know, weird experiences... anthropology being a huge thing... engineering has helped me plan my huge projects. Yeah. And also looking at art as a business. I, I would not have done that at 21. And that has helped me be like, there's so much time.

Dylan Cale Jones: And something that I think about too, going back to like this idea of pausing or dormancy that you've talked about is what can we do in those periods? Even if it's just a tiny bit and still give it the honor of being art or being creativity, right?

Like yesterday, I taught yesterday and I got home and I just felt like this dry piece of trash. And I journal every night before I go to bed, but I also try to draw something. And last night I was exhausted and I drew this like long car but it was this moment where I got to claim my creative time in the day, and it was less than a minute, but it was mine. For people who are doing things like raising a child or taking care of an elder or are in other situations where their time or energy or spirit is being shared with other people... , I just want to encourage people in those positions to find any moment, even if it's five minutes, even if it's one minute during the day to make that time for yourself. You know, what does art look like for you as a parent if it's like, yeah, you only have five minutes... Can you still give yourself the honor of calling that your practice?

Maria Do Anderson: Yes. Yeah. This is so very interesting, making me think about a lot of things. I love you guys.

Dylan Cale Jones: We love you too, Maria.

Maria Do Anderson: Oh, thanks. We just met. This is our second date.

So I've been reading a lot about other artists and I love portraits. I've been reading a book about painting portraits. Have I painted a portrait? No, but, but those are little ways to reclaim my creative time. But. The longer I stay away from having my hand put something on paper, the more insecure I get about it. Isn't that real? Like, if I sit down and draw every day, then it's like, Oh yeah, I got this. But if I spend a few days away from it, I'm like, "I can't draw anything."

So I really want to take your advice and just doodle something every day.

Isa Rodriguez: And also a thousand tiny things, if you put them on next to each other, becomes a giant thing, right? Like if it comes big once it builds up.

Dylan Cale Jones: Cool. Cool. Okay. We have a little bit more time left. So we would like to know what advice would you give to your past self about creativity? What did your past self need to hear?

Maria Do Anderson: You'll find your way. You'll find your way. Everything does not need to happen now and all the good things, all the bad things, they're going to shape you and make you, you. And you're going to be an amazing person. So... chill.

Yeah, I feel in my twenties I was so not chill. Yeah oh yeah, you know what? Keep doing active things. Keep moving your body because as they say, if you don't use it, you lose it. As in muscle tone. Things are heavier now. Your back doesn't like to do certain things. That's true. That's true. I can attest to that.

Isa Rodriguez: Yeah. So, we'd also like to hear what advice you have for future you... advice or encouragement.

Maria Do Anderson: Girl, you got this. You're going to have that baby. It's going to be fine. It'll be fine. Yeah, just don't make another one.

Dylan Cale Jones: Well, Maria, this has been a fantastic conversation. Thanks for being so candid with us. And I think I learned a lot and had a lot of fun.

Isa Rodriguez: Yeah, it's really been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

Maria Do Anderson: Oh, yeah. Thank you. This has been such an awesome experience. And yeah, I appreciate you guys so much. Thank you for having me.

Dylan Cale Jones: Practice, Practice is created by Isa Rodriguez and Dylan Cale Jones. The music you heard in this episode is by Kate Jarboe.

Isa Rodriguez: This season of Practice Practice is funded by a Thrive Grant from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Dylan Cale Jones: Thrive Grants fund community-driven, artist-led projects across the state of Oklahoma. Learn more and apply at ovac-ok.org

Maria Do Anderson: I'm Maria Do Anderson, and you're listening to Practice Practice.