World-Building with Mayah Monet Lovell

We recently had the honor of speaking with Mayah Monet Lovell, an expansively talented and delightfully unapologetic multimedia artist based in Washington, D.C.  Mayah describes herself as both a self-taught and community-based artist.  Though the scope of Mayah’s work as a painter, poet, performer, and literary artist defies reductive description, we’d say she is a true “world-builder” through and through.

Mayah recently curated a project entitled “dykes day,” a huge multi-sensory collaboration which launched after Mayah and a few others were awarded a Washington Project of the Arts grant in 2021-2022.  Based on an original manuscript by Mayah, dykes day incorporates poetry, lyricism, fiction, research, sculpture, photography and sound as it explores what a surrealist holiday for lesbians can ‘look, sound, feel, taste, and smell like.’  The book dykes day also includes a play that will be performed at two well loved community spaces in Baltimore.  Mayah looks forward to performing the play with two other poets, Maya Martinez and Chariot Wish.  

NC: I was surprised that a lot of the artists who responded to our call for these interviews work with text in interesting ways, including yourself … How has poetry and text figured into your process over time?

ML: Poetry is a good way to talk to writers and readers [of poetry] and poets, but poetry is hard to understand.  If anything, it’s a good way to communicate with self … Sometimes I have a little message in my paintings and it’s a poem; in “Palisades DC” there is a poem in the painting - it’s not my poem, but my friend Maggie Von Satcher’s.  Assimilating poetry with visual art is a way for me to synthesize how all my artistic minds go together.  I like to synthesize … there’s so many different layers of my work and it’s nice when they can come together sometimes.  

I think sometimes even my abstract paintings are poetic too.  I’ve been playing with ways that poetry messages in my work can be present without text … spreading messages that are meant to be “poetic.”  It’s up to the reader what they get from poetry and poetic work.  If my abstract work is poetic to me, I hope other people can get some kind of feeling too.


Mayah Lovell, ’All of Us’, 2019

NC: Could you talk a bit more about your abstract painting?

ML: I’ve been working on more and more abstract painting.  I’ve always kind of assimilated abstract with realism, so the abstract will be in the background and the foreground will almost consistently be figurative portraiture of people expressing their bodies sexually and from a lesbian perspective.  The abstract background creates a sense of worldbuilding or world-unknowing, so you think, “where is this place, even?”

I create landscapes that are parallel to our world.  A lot of my work represents landscapes and topography of earth, being that a lot of my family worked as indentured servants in the Caribbean before the 1950s with crops.  


Mayah Lovell, ‘Angel’s Sunday,’ 2023

NC:  Can you talk about a particular body of work or project of yours that had a personal transformative or healing effect on you as the creator?

ML:   My chapbook “Phanto” is all about my dysfunctional family structure and loss of my father … I used Jamaican ghosts and phantoms and Caribbean folklore and Voodoo to heal that relationship with my father.  I spent a couple years writing different pieces.  A lot of the book is about colonization of people; the motif of the ocean also figures prominently through the book as a source of healing and trenching trauma of my family relationship.  (Me and my father actually have a really good relationship now.)

I started writing [Phanto] after a 6-month stint of hypnotherapy … With Phanto, there was an intention of healing my attachment to pain, and I was trying to figure out ways to release it.  

Spending time in my home studio painting is also healing for me, generally.   It is a healing act and I know that for sure because I will have moments, like in Covid, where I had to put my studio into a storage room, and I couldn’t paint for 6 months. Being away from my art studio for so long … I didn’t even realize how detrimental it was to me until I was able to be back in my home studio many months later.  I thought to myself “maybe I shouldn’t stop doing that!” 

Everyone has something they do to get through things to heal.  I have been painting since I was 2 years old.  For me it has always been making art.  If I stop that thing for a few months at a time, I shouldn’t be surprised when I pick up my healthy habits again and they make me happy, but I always am.  

I think painting is really healing for me in general, and my book "Phanto” is something that helped heal my inner child so much.


Mayah Lovell, ‘Blooming Entites of a Queer Diaspora,’ 2023


Mayah’s book “Phanto” was recently featured at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair held at the Geffen in Los Angeles, CA.  “dykes day” will be performed at Baltimore venues NottluNottlu on September 29th and the compound on September 30th, 2023. 

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