Robin Elise Maaya is loquacious, vibrant, intelligent, sharp-as-a-whip, and deeply talented.
I briefly wrote about her “It’s A Thursday” photography show and book release last July, but it was not until November that I had an opportunity to meet her in person at a Cleo The Gallery member dinner.
Just home from a trip to Paris Photo, the largest photography fair in the world, Maaya was passionately and excitedly regaling fellow diners about how that experience had, in turns, enthralled, inspired, exhausted, and over-stimulated her.
“I was photo-drunk! It was the most incredible thing. It’s definitely influenced me - maybe not tangibly in my work quite yet, but in pre-planning…looking at how they displayed work, how they hung it in different and unconventional ways.”
This young woman lives and breathes photography, and damn, is her work good.
By the time she graduated summa cum laude from SCAD in 2021, with her BFA in Photography (Fine Art & Documentary concentration), Maaya had already mounted numerous solo shows, published accompanying monographs, and participated in many group exhibits.
We meet again in January to discuss the second anniversary of “It’s A Thursday,” to be held Thursday (duh), Feb. 2, at Savoy Society.
Most Savannahians know the story by now….following a friendship breakup and freshly coming out of pandemic, Maaya was feeling socially adrift. Good friend Maggie Hayes was having an art show at Savoy and invited her out. She had such a great time, she returned every Thursday night to candidly document exuberant patrons and staff using Polaroid and disposable cameras. Now, an enormous body of work later, Maaya will be selling books at the Thursday celebration while Hayes will be spinning tunes.
“It’s A Thursday” with its Studio 54/Andy Warhol/slightly voyeuristic vibe seems fun and frothy compared to Maaya’s other portfolios of work, each beautifully laid out and explained on her website, robinmaaya.com. Her personal work is black and white (“I develop all my own film in my bathroom at night”) and the first portfolio is titled “Girls Ward: Left”…
…“Girls Ward: Left” was her first solo show in January of her sophomore year and centered around childhood trauma and her teenage admission to a mental institution. The searingly honest work addresses difficult subjects others would feel too vulnerable or even ashamed about to discuss, but she says, “To be overly open is the way I deal with things.”
The accompanying monograph containing her institutional records and forms sold out at the reception: “Every time I do a show, I make a book to go with it. I order them in advance, so I front the money and then I’m anxious about it for two weeks.”
In the fall of 2019, Maaya showed “Moulting.”
“That was my coming-out story to my Mom. I’ve known I was gay since I was four, and I knew she had her suspicions, but I didn’t know how to tell her. So I made a whole body of work even though there was never a question of whether she would accept me. It started out as a way to tell my mom, but really it was a way to process accepting myself.”
“Home Away From Home,” Maaya’s Senior Exhibition in 2021 was comprised of a monograph, largescale black and white photographs, photographic etchings, cyanotypes, encaustics, and a huge installation piece.
It is a hauntingly beautiful collection of work surrounding her part-time employment as a respite-care nanny for the family of acclaimed Savannah photographer Christine (Chrissy) Hall.
“I pretty much lived with them for three years. I was at their house three days a week. Her twin daughter Ruby is non-verbal autistic with Cerebral Palsy and I fell in love with her instantly. I would die for this child.”
When I remark that I see similarities between the authentic honesty of Hall’s photographic style and her own, Maaya tells me, “Chrissy hired me to do some editing of her shoots and she’s definitely had a huge influence on my work, and we both are influenced by Sally Mann.”
She refers to the stellar American photographer Sally Mann (b.1951) whose iconic series “Immediate Family,” intimate black and white photographs of her children, first garnered her national recognition.
Determined to meet her idol, Maaya went to Atlanta to see Mann’s 2019 show “A Thousand Crossings” at the High, and the next day arrived super early at Jackson Fine Art, the internationally known photography gallery where she was having a book signing.
“Sally Mann and I are kind of friends now! We text each other.”
In addition to her Senior Exhibition, Maaya produced a Senior Showcase monograph of all her work with children: “Little Children of the Sky” of orphans in creches in South Africa; ten sets of twins in Savannah; a portfolio called “Boyhood” of brothers in Savannah; and an on-going, four-year series on twin girls Beni and Dani in Mississippi whose images are particularly striking.
Maaya’s work is often stark, but always beautiful. Her photography professor and mentor, Jaclyn Cori Norman, is a mother to twins and connected her to all the parents whose twins she photographed, including putting her in touch with Christine Hall, mother to twins Ava and Ruby, the inspiration for “Home Away From Home.”
Maaya credits Cori Norman for “changing the way I see the world through a lens. She changed the way that I see children. She is my primary mentor and is so influential in why I’m doing what I’m doing now.”
What is up next for this over-achieving superstar who, though not required to mount any shows, had four during her time at SCAD? (And I have not even mentioned the 28 stunning portraits of Union Mission clients that hang at the new Parker’s House: A Home for Women.)
Maaya has planned trips to New York and Alaska and will attend the 2023 Paris Photo.
Meanwhile, she continues to build up her freelance business work: Her website shows recent shoots with textile artist Trish Anderson, jeweler Ben Dory, the Thompson Savannah hotel, Brouchu’s Family Tradition, and others.
And, of course, there is a show almost ready to mount.
“I have an addiction to getting my work out there!” she tells me. “Exodus,” a project started during her prestigious post-graduate SCAD Ateliership, centers on self-portrait work surrounding difficult childhood memories and the departure from childhood to womanhood.
“It’s pretty much done; I have cyanotypes I have turned into pillows, a mobile, and other objects ready to show with it. I think I’m going to exhibit at The Nest, a newer rental gallery space on 33rd Street.”
So, stay posted. This young woman is absolutely going places.
The second anniversary celebration of “It’s A Thursday” party is Thurs., Feb. 2, at Savoy Society. Be the first to see the new 800-page monograph “It’s A Thursday: The Book of Everything,” a compilation of every picture taken over the past two years. Follow Maaya’s Savoy work on Instagram @its.a.thursday, and follow all her work @robinbirdy and at robinmaaya.com