The abstract artist.


Despite being only in her mid-20s, in June 2016 Maida Gayle suffered a minor stroke.


“I woke up and the whole left side of my body had gone numb,” she recalls. “I realised something was wrong when I couldn’t get up. I was telling my leg to move but it wasn’t moving. Finally, I got to the bathroom. My heart rate started going up; I was rushed to the hospital.”


According to Maida, the doctors had no idea why she had a stroke at such a young age. She was healthy, and the only guess was it was due to some pills she was taking for her well-being. It didn’t make sense.


“I recovered overnight and they let me out,” says Maida. “But since then I’ve experienced nerve pain throughout my whole body. It’s something I have to work through, but it’s taught me a lot.”


So, when one year on she was able to hold her first solo exhibition of abstract art at Creative Artillery in Hanoi, she was amazed.


“This exhibition [is] not only a milestone in an art career that I hope to pursue,” she wrote on Facebook in mid-June, “but proof of the endless... possibilities available if we simply give respect to this life we are given.”


From Music to Art


Born in Toronto to Filipino-Canadian parents, and a graduate in Childhood and Social Institutions, Maida’s introduction into creative arts started young.


“My parents brought me to piano lessons from an early age, since I was about seven years old,” she says. “And then singing lessons. That opened up music for me. All my family is very musical — I ended up performing.”


However, her move into abstract art didn’t happen until 2014 when she began her journey on an apartment rooftop in South Korea. In the same way that she had always used music to express her feelings, now she chose art.


“At the time I had moved into a smaller city in Korea,” she says. “I’m a city girl but here we were in the countryside so I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ Our apartment was small, we didn’t have a piano and I needed something to do. I knew that I was going to be leaving in a few months and I guess there were big emotions happening inside. So, I needed another means to manage my emotions.”


With the encouragement of a friend from Canada, she started with a small 4x6 canvas that she found in a local art shop. After that she started experimenting.


She says: “With most forms of art there’s a set image that you look at — it’s like this is a tree, this is a flower and this is how you interpret it. Abstract art allows you to really look inside yourself and see what you see. “I’m constantly seeing colours in my head but it’s not a distinct image. I find that it allows for people to find within themselves what the answer is on the canvas.”




In just three years, besides her first solo exhibition, Maida has received commissions — in Vietnam, Korea and Canada — and has also worked on wall murals in Hanoi with fellow artist, Cat O’ Brien.


Even though the after-effects of the stroke mean she has a daily battle with pain — she’s tried to offset it by practicing Vipassana meditation and yoga — she knows she is lucky and it could be a lot worse.


Now she is focusing her attention on another goal, one she’s had since her mid-teens.


“My aunt works for International Justice Mission in Cambodia,” she says. “She works with women and children who’ve come out of sex trafficking. She came home one summer and described to me the work she does. I’ve always wanted to do that.”


Maida has already made a start. She volunteers at Hagar International, an NGO with offices in Hanoi that aims to rebuild the lives of women and children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Vietnam who have been ‘torn apart by human rights abuse’.


“Every other week I go to the shelter and I teach the children and women different styles of abstract art. We create it together,” she says.


Her dream now is to develop this teaching into a form of art therapy and to take it to other areas in Southeast Asia and in particular India, a country she feels heavily drawn to.


“I love that anything can be art,” she explains. “I love that everyone should have the freedom to create. I love that it’s so individual to each person. I love that anything is possible with art. It allows for people to express themselves for without art I think there would be no expression. This is very vital in what it means to be a human being — to be able to express yourself. Because if we kept everything bottled in, we would go crazy.”

Photo by Julie Vola


To read the other articles in this series, click on the following links:


Painter, tattooist and some-time graffiti artist.   Danny refuses to give his real name. He
Artist and teacher.   The idea is to keep evolving, growing, and then expanding. One ...
The comic strip artist.   If you think my story is interesting, sure,” says Fred Serra when
The custom guitar maker.   From Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix to Joni Mitchell, the guitar has
The sketch artist.   Drawn to Ho Chi Minh City for work and to fulfil a dream that was
The abstract artist.   Despite being only in her mid-20s, in June 2016 Maida Gayle suffered
The vintage clothing store owner.   Sat in her vintage clothing store, with her short boyish
The cartoonist.   This is the first time someone’s used ‘Bohemian’ to describe me,” laughs
The fashion designer.   Fashion is not usually synonymous with ethics, but May Cortazzi is
The psychedelic artist.   Although he may have started down the conventional English

Nick Ross

Chief editor and co-founder of Word Vietnam, Nick Ross was born in the humble city of London before moving to the less humble climes of Vietnam. His wanderings have taken him to definitely not enough corners of the globe, but being a constant optimist, he still has hopes.


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