By VICTOR SLEDGE, July 2021
Never on the nose and always off-center, artist Maayan Sophia Weisstub’s work is a universe made entirely from her gaze. A multidimensional artist and student with a viral following, Weisstub’s art explores the world and its prisms from angles you’ve never thought to look through before.
“I just see things in a certain way,” says Weisstub, “and I like to share that.”
And she does.
Scrolling down her Instagram profile, it would be disorienting to try to take in everything from your own view. You cannot approach Weisstub’s posts with expectations because her art circumvents expectations. It takes your normal view and turns it on its head. Her work is so cohesive with her unique gaze that it begs you to reimagine your typical viewpoint.
Oftentimes, she is actively putting her eye to work to keep that viewing experience alive. She says that some days, she focuses on trying to find different approaches to her work, even to the point of burning herself out.
“A lot of days, I try to think of new ways to look at things and get frustrated because I just get stuck,” she says. “Then, I let go of my thoughts so that things just come jumping out, and then I have it!”
Ironically, it’s usually at the end of the day when she feels most dried out that her ideas come to her most clearly.
“It’s a constant thinking process,” she explains, “but then it usually comes to me when I rest.”
And the ideas, from a viewer’s perspective, seem to come pretty regularly.
Much of her work deals with the body and every permutation of its form imaginable. Weisstub’s collections, such as Body and Anatomy, play with the often definitive view of the body. In these works, everything belongs everywhere. The contour of an eyelid is now the curve of a butt cheek. The tips of two fingers are now the end of a dry tongue.
Weisstub’s ability and effort to constantly find surprising connections within the human form speaks to her everlasting, ever-changing point of view. She leaves no stone unturned with her corporeal work, even with the more outlawed parts of our anatomy.
As an artist who has gone viral multiple times, it can be difficult for Weisstub to balance the work she does with the body and the constraints of social media. Although it is never salacious or erotic (much of those connotations are actually inferred rather than explicit), her work does sometimes clash with the parameters of Instagram, which leads to them censoring her work. This happened most recently with a post collaging the peak of Mount Fuji with a nipple.
“The censorship makes it seem more extreme than it actually is many times. It puts a stamp on it that says it’s not OK,” she says.
It can become frustrating for her because Weisstub’s aim isn’t to be overtly sexual or erotic.
“Sometimes the work comes more from an emotional place that’s showing something as it is, something that is natural.”
In a way, the cost of her perspective and the freedom it advocates for is that the platforms she posts on may perceive her work entirely differently than she expects. Much of her work, though, simply depends on her mood and her specific way of representing it. Some of her work with the body may be related to some emotional connection with the vulnerability of nudity. Other pieces may be playful takes on different parts of the body. Those different dimensions are a part of the experience when viewing her work.
The playfulness in her work, for example, necessitates a childlike gaze, adding to the strength of her point of view.
“I like keeping a childlike view on things,” she says. “I like keeping an open mind and letting things come to me.”
One way that childlike gaze comes into play is her attention to inanimate objects. While it may be challenging to find the same connection now, thinking back to your childhood and the things you still hold now as sentimental may make that gaze more attainable.
As a sentimental person herself, Weisstub has always had an innate connection to inanimate objects and the weight they carry.
“I always had a ‘thing’ with objects,” she explains. “I think I’m intrigued by them because they do seem alive to me.”
She doesn’t mean alive in the sense of a growing house plant. Instead, Weisstub recognizes the life that we give inanimate objects through memory and sentimentality. The objects we encounter on a daily basis can’t talk or breathe, but they hold the weight of our emotions.
For Weisstub, she felt that idea the strongest after the passing of her father. In her grieving, she realized that the items he left behind became a living memory of him.
“It was a lot of objects that resonated with him, and that reminded me of him,” she says. “So then, I had a deeper and more specific connection regarding objects.”
These things that we get connected to, that our lost loved ones were connected to, live through our grief, and beyond. They take on new meaning and evolve as we impress upon them a bit of the value our loved ones had in our lives.
“When losing someone,” she explains, “a lot of times they leave stuff behind them, and this stuff kind of lingers.”
In one of her most striking works from the series Moths, Weisstub expresses that as she wears her late father’s T-shirt, which has been eaten by moths, leaving gaping holes throughout the fabric. These moths, she explains, in some cultures, represent death in a spiritual way that leads to regeneration and transformation.
This beautiful and particular approach to the world around her, even in her work that explores darker themes, continuously adds layers to her art. Some of these approaches, she explains, come from a philosophical framework.
One of the schools of thought that influence her gaze is Object-Oriented Ontology, a philosophy that puts the experience of humans and nonhumans on the same level. In effect, it means that the same value we place on the experiences of our lives would be equally respected in the lives we give inanimate objects through our memories and sentiments. And although Weisstub isn’t a proponent of all of the philosophy’s ideas, she believes in how it implores people to think more deeply about the objects in their lives.
“It’s seeing the life that other things have, and I think that’s very important to notice,” she says.
Another philosophy, Wabi-Sabi, which embraces and celebrates the realities of imperfections, can also be seen in Moths. It appreciates and cherishes the marks of beauty left on objects from wear and tear.
“It helps me a lot because it sees imperfections as perfections, so I think it’s a very healthy way of seeing the world,” she says.
And whatever the philosophical framework behind it, seeing the world in her own way is what will always keep Weisstub’s art alive.
As she moves forward and finishes up her time at Royal College of Art, she’s setting her sights on her graduation project, a kinetic sculpture, which will be displayed in a solo exhibition at Omer Tiroche Gallery in London, starting on June 22.
She also plans to continue collaborating with other artists, adding her own gaze to other projects as she continues to broaden her horizons and force us to do the same.
Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia. He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic.