Christina Maile

Photo by Joseph Holmes

Christina Maile is a Greenwich Village-based artist who has lived at Westbeth since it’s opening more than a half century ago. Raised in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn by parents of Malaysian and Trinidadian descent, Christina was exposed to elements of her parents’ cultural backgrounds at home, though they were keen to appear assimilated to anyone outside the family. She never left her Brooklyn neighborhood until she attended Oakland University outside Detroit in the 1960s.

At Oakland, Maile studied history, a subject she says was lacking from her Catholic school education, and met and befriended a group of students from the art department, beginning her lifelong interest in art. There she also met Tom Maile, her first husband, a painter and art historian; together, they moved back to New York City, and got a tip to apply to then-new Westbeth Artists Housing.

Maile describes the early days of living in Westbeth in the early 1970s as a time when tenants were encouraged to customize their living spaces, create their own interest-based groups, and invent whatever their growing community needed. She describes groups for painters, playwrights, sculptors, photographers and printmakers, as well as parents and car owners. A founding member of the Playwrights Feminist Collective in the early 1970s, Maile describes how she and others were empowered to launch careers building upon the hardships and aspirations they articulated in their works. Her career as an artist was facilitated by the affordability of their housing and the availability of services like communal child care.

Maile earned a degree in urban landscape architecture from City College, eventually working for the Parks Department as an engineer. She co-designed a children’s AIDS garden with her second husband, Parviz Mohassel. Since retiring, Maile has remained at Westbeth, and spent the last two decades establishing herself as a fine artist. She is a self-taught printmaker––inspired by her discovery of an inactive printmaking studio at Westbeth––and has taken painting lessons from Dan Rice, a key Abstract Expressionist painter at Black Mountain College in the 1940s and 50s. Her recent work explores her ancestry, landscapes, and gender.


Transcript of Audio Clip:

“Okay, I’m Christina Maile. I’m a printmaker living at Westbeth Artists Housing. I’ve
had a varied career in the arts, thanks to affordable housing here. I’ve lived in Westbeth for almost fifty years…First, I started out just doing landscape, so I would do monoprints of trees and water. And then that’s when I began to remember all of these stories that my parents had told about living a much different life––a life that incorporated the unseen as well as the seen, spirits and ghosts. Superstitions have a bad connotation, but just connections between how your actions influence other things and how your life proceeds from that.

So I began to remember these stories, and the context of those stories was also the control that British colonialism and British imperialism had on both those islands and how it thwarted a lot of the culture and language of the place. And also made people kind of deny who they were, in favor of being who they were supposed to be, in terms of this structure that the colonialism brought to those islands. That’s how I began in investigating in my own ancestry.”

The full transcript of this audio begins on page 8 of the Oral History Document found here.