The World of Aricama: A Conversation with Maria Camia About Virtually-Performed Puppetry, Hypnotism, and Coloring Contests

Interviewed by Claudia Yile

Edited by Hayley Lind

NYC-based artist Maria Camia is the ultimate visionary. The heart of her interdisciplinary art practice — ranging anywhere from puppeteering to NFTs — is Maria’s rare sensibility for the esoteric. Her creative works tend to echo each other–her sketches and comics turn into plays or puppet shows, while hypnotherapy gives her clarity and awareness within her theater practice. The synergy of art and spirituality is the DNA of Maria’s masterpiece: the aesthetically buoyant and symbolically rich world of Aricama.

CY: Where are you from and when did you start making art?

MC: I’m from Virginia Beach, VA. My parents are Filipino immigrants who came to the United States. And their mindset was something like, “Okay, we’re here; let’s work hard.” But then in kindergarten, I won first place in a coloring contest because I used these glitter crayons to color a piggy bank and won $100. Even though I started drawing extremely young, it was after I came home with money that my auntie and my mom started thinking, “Oh, she’s special!” more or less…

CY: You’re so multi-talented. How would you describe yourself and your art practice?

MC: I would describe myself at either zero or a hundred percent. There’s no in-between: in my astrology, I am an Aries Moon, Aries rising and then with a Libra Sun, so I’m constantly in opposition to myself. I’ve always made visual art and I was raised playing classical piano and viola. Then I learned how to talk and perform in college after my braces came off. It was only obvious for me to be part of every task in theater; from making music, building props and set, writing, and directing.

To describe myself…I don’t know how I knew this when I was in elementary school. But I remember I learned that Dr. Seuss died on my exact birthday, September 24, 1991. And at that age, I was like, “Okay, I understand.”

Now, my art practice has turned into channeling a higher divine consciousness, not my own ego. When I look back on my art, when I’m feeling sad or weighed down by earthly vibes, it helps me a lot. Even though I am the writer of all these things, my art has become my spiritual practice.

CY: So ultimately, would you say you’re a director?

MC: Yes, I am a director. But I still love to hide and draw.

CY: One way your many talents come together is through your puppetry. How did you get started with performance and puppetry?

MC: Puppetry felt natural to me. When I was 11, I made a pacifier into a puppet. I inverted the nipple part and made it look like a mouth and then I made it a bracelet but then I lost her at the mall and cried. So my mom pitied me and got me a dozen pacifiers from her work because she’s a nurse. Oh, and I grew up watching the classics, Sesame Street, Pappy’s Land, Puzzle Place–children’s programming really gets to you.

When I was in college, I studied sculpture and extended media at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University). Everything I made turned into a costume or a prop. I went to my professor Corin Hewitt’s land in Vermont in 2012 and made my first puppet video piece called “The Kreme Green” which had a seven-headed bird creature that birthed an odd girl. In my senior year, I continued to make puppets, and my blessed professor, Elizabeth King, told me to see Puppet Lab‘s Labapalooza at St. Anne’s in Brooklyn, New York–my mind exploded.

CY: When Covid-19 hit, live performing arts took quite a hit. You had to premiere your directorial debut, “New Mony!,” virtually. How was directing a virtual production different from performing live?

MC: We performed it both live and virtually at the same time. Honestly, it was adding another whole element to the production. It was stressful, but great at the same time because my friends and family could watch from afar, along with the 24 people spaced out in the audience.

What I’ve learned from performance is you need to give your all and expect nothing from the audience. They could be tired, completely exhausted, or shy, and now you can’t even see their faces with their masks on. There were some nights when people were very vocal and laughing loudly: Lea Delaria from Orange is the New Black attended and I appreciated how vocal she was.

CY: In addition to performing “New Mony” as a virtual show, you also released NFTs with EdenDAO last year. What was that experience like for you?

MC: EdenDAO is run by one of my friends, Ariel Arakas, and it was pretty chill. She liked my work and had me send it over to Richmond, Virginia, and their partner handled all of the computer programming.

I love NFTs, I think they’re a great idea! This is the direction we’re going…when it becomes more accessible, it’s the thing everyone’s going to be doing.

CY: The worldbuilding of “New Mony!” is exquisite. What inspired you to create Aricama? How do you think Aricama has changed over time since you first created it?

MC: During my senior year of college, I was obsessed with mindset and concerned with the overall sadness and fear of the world. I would think about how can one clean out uselessness and make more space for what is useful. When one is born on Aricama, they are “Bucket Heads,” and as they grow, they begin to grow a garden in the mind to represent “A Beautiful Mind.” The final evolution of Bucket Heads are trees that raise the new Bucket Head children who learn from connecting to nature.

Between 2013 and 2020, my sketchbooks have kept the same pure message: “Practice play and healing.” It’s like I’ve emptied the majority of what this world is through my sketches and comics and I now use them to create all of my plays and performances.

So in articulating this world through performance, I use absurdity and juxtaposition. For example, why do humans eat potatoes? It’s because potatoes ate humans in the past and it’s a karmic contract flowing between both parties.

CY: Do you have any influences/artists you look up to? What kind of art do you usually consume in your free time?

MC: Peter Schumann, Basil Twist, Saya Woolfalk, Jim Henson, Elizabeth King, Alexander McQueen, Disney…My bullshit credential is that Jim Henson and I share the same birthday!

But urban hip hop Filipino and Asian dancers like Ysabelle Capitule, Riehata, Lyle Beniga, Mari and Keone, and Sienna Lalau are my favorite. I like the arts that look “cool,” when you can feel the God source flowing through and their connection to divinity.

CY: You also maintain a hypnotherapy practice. What led you to learn about hypnotherapy?

MC: I’m into all of the taboo things that people deny and call delusional or imagination. With hypnotism, I learned it by chance online. Alba Weinman and Antonio Sangio taught me Introspective Hypnosis. I love hypnotherapy because it is the courage to look and feel the pain and let it go. It makes room for the truth. Hypnosis also works hand in hand with my theater practice as it provides more breath and more awareness. It’s not just about creating; but about releasing.

CY: You have a new puppet show, The Healing Shipment, coming up this winter. Tell us more!

MC: It is a story about three generations of women: a mother stuck in the past, a grandma stuck in the future, and a daughter who will help bring them back into the present moment. So it’s like the same themes of craving and aversion, one runs away from the present. The grandmother is all about spreading the mission of Aricama to the Galaxy, with a capitalistic mindset, which ultimately makes her daughter resent the future and stay stuck in the past.

With my work, I also want to find ways to empower my actors to live on their truth. The show will have body puppets where the actor’s face is the heart of the puppet to allow that actor to connect with their heart consciousness more than their survival, reptilian, or monkey mind, as they say.

We have to also mention my cast; the people I work with in NEW MONY! And every show after that. I’d be nothing without them. Complete trash without them! They go hard, like the last show I did, they learned the whole show in two to three weeks.

I am showing 20 minutes of this show in La Mama’s Jumpstart Work in Progress Showing December 1–4 and we intend to have its world premiere in November 2023 at La Mama’s Puppet Festival.

CY: Any live shows coming up that you’d recommend?

MC: Independent K-Rapper DPR LIVE is coming on September 24 to New York!

Thank you for having me, HOLE and Claudia!

You can find more from Maria Camia here:

Website & shop: WWW.MARICAMA.COM

Instagram: instagram.com/themaricama

Instagram shop: instagram.com/shopmaricama

Aricama Instagram: instagram.com/aricama.liberation

Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/MariaCamia

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