By: Zack Kotzer
It is custom for Jews to dress up in costume on Purim, and as a child, Maya Ben David chose to dress as Vashti, the predecessor to Queen Esther that was banished after refusing to dance for the king and his guests. Since then, Maya Ben David dresses for defiance. As cosplay culture piles high upon fan subculture after fan subculture, Ben David sees an unnerving male gaze spiking through all of it. She doesn’t like going to conventions anymore, environments that bring her the wrong kind of attention for what should be an enjoyable practice of costuming. As a performer, she creates costumes inspired by specific fan subcultures and uses them to force the male gaze to stare back at itself.
Her signature outfits are ‘morphsuits,’ form-fitting spandex, used in combination with masks and makeup to reenact and reject the centerfold-stylings of most fan art. She’s especially interested in the anthropomorphization art, fans who take everything from animals, Pokemon, trains, planes, and automobiles and illustrate them in a halfway humanoid form. She makes it clear that she’s not interested in othering the practice or the subculture as a whole, but a large percentage of this art world is, unsurprisingly, created with horndog intentions. There’s a meme that everything that exists has pornographic fanart somewhere. It’s the continuing notion that all these creatures be drawn in Bettie Page poses that irks her.
“My work is more grotesque than is what is normally found,” said Ben David over the phone. “Fan art attempts to be well rendered, stylistic and beautiful a lot of the time. I think my work does not have the same beauty or rejects that. I have a lot of people who are part of the anthro-plane community who don’t like my anthro-plane. But I know a lot of people who really do like it that I am friends with. They also have amazing anthro-characters, and it’s nice to share that with them.”
In the video piece entitled MBD: Origin Story, Maya is dressed like a humanoid version of an Air Canada plane. Still dressed like a plane, she then dresses in human clothes, a pink Spider-Man t-shirt and cut-off jeans inspired by Mary Jane’s more cheesecake appearances. The plane dances with Spider-Man, they embrace, Spider-Man takes her photo, before she consumes Spider-Man like Saturn devouring his sons.
In another video, the Air Canada character poses like a postcard model to a slowed down version of the SellOffVacations radio jingle. This character is based on the art of Walter Sache, who Ben David says is one of the best in the biz when it comes to humanoid airplanes. As of this writing Sache’s Deviantart page has over three million hits.
In my favorite video of hers, Maya Ben David dresses as multiple fan art renditions of the air conditioner from Disney’s The Brave Little Toaster, reciting a rant originally delivered by Phil Hartman doing a sort of Jack Nicholson impression. Instead of huffing and raving, Ben David’s rendition is more seductive, absurdly cooing “I like being stuck in this stupid wall.”
“Every character that I’ve reenacted or changed the narrative of or added on to is because I felt pathetic towards them or felt they didn’t have a full story,” said Ben David. It’s that empathy that Ben David feels is lacking in a lot of fan art, and what can be alienating to her from a lot of fan culture. She, in turn, identifies with the anxiety and paranoia of Hartman’s air conditioner, and that his self-destructive explosion in the beginning of the animated film is not petty or sad, but empowering.
“I reperform characters I feel are similar to me,” said Ben David.
“When people illustrate an anthropomorphic car, you’d think that because you’re deconstructing both a woman’s form and a car’s form,” said Ben David. “You’re putting them together, that anything could be possible. Anything is beautiful. This car’s role is kind of limitless. But there is a limit to what a lot of fan art communities are creating. What I would like is to open spaces, and I guess that’s what I try to do with my work. Where maybe more grotesque femme form can be possible.”
Maya Ben David is currently working on a video piece where her Air Canada character plays softball with a part-dragon, part-Goodlife Fitness gym bag of her creation. One day she’d like to create a feature-length film based on her universe of characters.