"You will discover that everything was worth it. Everything."
Hello, my name is Maze. I have made the decision to reflect on my early work as an artist. By delving into my past creations, I can gain insight into my personal and artistic growth throughout the years. I am a neurodiverse individual and I am proud to be a member of the Re-Route Magazine editorial team, as well as an ANA art dealer. I am autistic and also experience CPTSD, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, alexithymia, synesthesia, and other unique experiences that have been a part of my daily life for as long as I can remember.
Currently, I live in France, but due to the challenges of travel after Brexit, I will be swinging between France and the United Kingdom to be with my partner. This will be my first time visiting the UK, which is both exciting and scary - a range of emotions that is perfectly human! I also have a six-year-old dog named Nice.
I AM Maze. These three words embody a powerful mantra that resonates deep within me. They represent the culmination of a lifetime of struggle, growth, and self-discovery.
After years of masking and hiding my true self, I have finally come to a place where I can prioritize my mental health, body, and soul. I am learning to embrace all parts of myself, even those that are neurodiverse and unique.
To me, Maze is more than just a name. It represents a complex and intricate journey, filled with twists and turns, highs and lows. At times, it can feel like a maze, with no clear path forward. But other times, it opens up into a wide expanse of possibility, where anything is possible.
In this way, the Maze and the open space are one and the same - opposite yet harmonized, interchangeable yet inseparable. As I navigate the twists and turns of life, I am constantly reminded that I am Maze, and I am capable of finding my way through any challenge.
I am Maze, a 40-year-old non-binary, queer, bi-cultural individual who identifies as a work in constant progress, sometimes painful. Although I was born and raised in Algeria, I have both Algerian and French passports. I moved to France on December 31, 2004, and now consider myself French. Feeling like I don't fully belong in either of my cultures has reinforced a feeling I've had since childhood - that I must be from another planet. This thought, along with countless others, led me to research mild autism or "Autisme léger" in French. Before my diagnosis, I was drawn to the energies of autistic individuals, and I had the chance to meet a few before then.
I don't remember when I chose "Maze" as my artist name, but I added "Creatrix" later. However, I distinctly recall when I started drawing - it was three years ago, on March 1, 2020, the year that went viral.
Now, after a lifetime of constant masking, I prioritize my mental health, body, and soul above all else. I want to express and share my truth with ease, gentle conviction, and great trust in myself. That is how drawing happened and is still happening.
Early that year, after a decade of living with a partner, I returned to my parents, not knowing when I would leave (especially after Covid changed the way we travel). Shortly after arriving in my new, yet old, heavily patterned, emotionally confusing, warm, and reassuring environment, I felt an increasing need to access further depth within myself to express and ultimately release and heal recent and ancient wounds.
On March 1st, I found myself struggling to decide what to write on my notepad. But then, something unexpected happened - I tuned into my intuition and began to draw. This adventure was inspired by the wise words of a dear friend who encouraged me to free my expression by giving my full attention to how I felt, without worrying about the form. As someone with OCD, his words resonated with me deeply.
In fact, I rarely disclose all my diagnoses due to imposter syndrome, born from facing too many eye rolls, sighs, and misinterpretations. But now, I am re-parenting myself, re-orienting my attention, and re-routing my neuropathways (did you see what I did there?). I am listening and caring for every call for attention from my body, mind, heart, and soul. My truth is at the centre of this process, whether it is shaky, full of fears and doubts, or as clear as crystal.
Through this healing process, I am experiencing a sense of safety that I have never felt before. Even though feelings of isolation, loneliness, disconnection, and fragmentation still exist, I know that I am not alone. My partner provides constant support, and although it's not always easy to face my deepest contradictions and unhealthy patterns, their ninja-like skills in transparent communication push me to grow.
As I move forward, I am curious to see where my mind will take me regarding my artistic work.
An overview of my artistic processes
On the 1st of March, and in many drawings since, I only wanted to move my hand not thinking once about the consequences on the paper, and this process is still present. What is there to fear? Drawing a hideous line? A wrong line? What is a hideous line? Why on earth would I judge a line as being wrong? Rather than relying on a value system with opposing poles, I wanted to base my judgments on how well they align with my most centred self. What I call my centred self is my most balanced and grounded state.
When I start these kinds of drawings, let's call them the fizzy ones (often pattern-based), I am still determining which direction my emotions and thoughts will take, which translates into not knowing what shapes I will be tracing on the paper or the iPad. It is very similar to the energy of taking long walks with multiple short destinations rather than a unique or final one. After a while, a shape emerges from the sea of patterns. At this moment, I enter a new phase of my drawing process, where I operate towards a specific goal: to make tangible the shapes I envisioned whilst remaining open to learning from the uncertain, unpredictable, le hasard in French.
Around a decade ago, I experienced severe burnout, leading to my autism diagnosis. After years of masking my most authentic nature, I grew tired of verbal expression, and I craved a more accurate and nonlinear means of expression that wouldn't lead to further burnout. During that time, I turned to photography to express myself. My thinking is highly visual, and photography is an exciting medium for conveying my emotions, views, hopes, fears, etc. It is interesting to consider how photography, an art form that relies on an external process (the camera) and an unaltered scene, allows such powerful self-expression!
Even before starting to practice black-and-white photography almost daily, I was fascinated by this art form, especially street photography (the kind where people rarely appear, more animals and still life). My heightened social anxiety during that period has deeply influenced this preference. Recently, I have come to understand that the intensity of my anxiety is not only linked to early trauma, but is directly born from a more significant and profound source: my resistance to vulnerability. Try to make meaningful art without being vulnerable! It has the energy of small talk: there is the creation or, rather, production, but it feels hollow. Whether in photography or drawing, the pieces that I connect the most to are the ones that inspire greater enthusiasm from the public. Most of my followers on Instagram are neurodiverse; I don't know if or how it plays into this enthusiastic response to my work. My art allows me to connect to myself and others in ways I didn't realise was possible.
One of my favourite things about putting my art out there is to read others' comments and messages describing their interpretation of my work. The highest connection point to me is when they express themselves through my art. What I mean by that is that sometimes, someone somewhere resonates so intensely with a particular piece that they see parts of themselves or their specific experience in it. That's gold to me and makes up for over three decades of misunderstanding or misinterpreting.
I have always had a love for black-and-white street photography, particularly the kind where people rarely appear. My heightened social anxiety during that period may have influenced this preference. Recently, I have come to understand that the intensity of my discomfort/anxiety is not only linked to early trauma but is directly born from a more significant and profound source: my resistance to vulnerability.
I practised photography for a few years before, during, and after my autism diagnosis, and it was the perfect expression for me then. Looking back at that period, I think that photography was this striking analogy for what I was experiencing back then: I was the camera, a device with a specific functioning that makes the perceived world look differently depending on the conditions outside, and the multiple parameters/functions of the camera itself...
Here are a few more photographs for you. Enjoy!
Back to drawing
In 2020, five years after my self-diagnosis and three years after receiving an official diagnosis, I devoted much of my time and energy to personal growth. I spent countless hours online, researching, absorbing, and applying any valuable information I could find about myself, mostly from other neurodiverse adults. Many of these individuals were late-diagnosed autistics who shared their experiences living in a normative world. All that knowledge about my neurotype made me feel closer to myself. Photography could not house the new consciously discovered depths and complexities of my human nature.
Another process I noticed early on in my relationship with drawing is just as organic as the one I mentioned earlier that has movement at the centre: I envision a representation of a concept and then work to make it something that is drawable. This process occurs when I "see" concepts (usually related to growth, re-parenting, a particular functioning of specific behavioural patterns, etc.).
The drawing above represents the concept of equilibrium in a relationship. Interestingly, the imagery my mind initially projected to me differs from what this piece depicts. I "saw" something more akin to a close-up of a pinball machine.
The ball represents the relationship, and the flippers represent the two people who share it. For the ball/relationship to not fall/break, each part has to care for the relationship in the best way possible and adjust its energies accordingly. In pinball, to not lose the ball and better control its trajectory, each flipper has to hit the ball from a suitable angle, at an appropriate time, with the proper force, and doing so in synergy, knowing when to hit simultaneously and when to do it separately.
I played with as many analogies as I could until I decided to draw my imagery.
In this piece, the ball is replaced by a planet-like sphere (life, delicacy). The flippers have very sharp ends to show the great power (and responsibility) that comes with entering any connection.
I see relationships as living organisms that operate like other systems in our world, following the laws of physics, chemistry, astronomy, medicine, art, and quantum mechanics, to only name a few. A connection requires intention, curiosity, experience, repetition, observation, awareness, and dedication to thrive.
I want to share a few more things with you before we go our separate, and probably quite similar, ways.
I am very proud of this video created by my partner. I can already hear them insisting that all the content was mine, and myself pointing out that putting things together -- and so much more -- is creating.
For the images, they used a bunch of my Procreate process videos and, at the end of the video, a screen recording of my signature. They made the music and added the swoosh sounds on my signature -- I signed with different things (sandpaper, a piece of clothing, etc.) on the wooden surface of my desk and recorded the sound produced by the friction.
We chose the recording I liked the most; they edited it and applied it to the images of my signature. And then they did the music to go with the video! They have the healthiest and most fascinating relationship with music I've ever witnessed -- they also have a wonderful voice and are incredibly skilled at media editing! I could go on and on.
It was amazing to collaborate with them on this project.
I wanted to share this last thing before leaving you-- for now. I took this shot on the day of my autism assessment results (a few minutes after I got handed my experience on a few pages of cheap paper). If I had to give this picture a title, I would call it What Now?
Within six years, you will connect with extraordinary minds and gentle hearts. Old shadows will resurface as if they've never left you. New lights will leave you like they've never dreamed of being with you. You will be part of an exciting personal, artistic and professional adventure where your abilities will be welcomed; your voice listened to, and your best interests cared for. You will publish two articles in the first issue of a very sexy neurodiverse art magazine (yes, I find my work and the whole Magazine team's work sexy AF!).
Through all this and the rest, you will face exceptional opportunities to get to know yourself in depths you cannot conceive. You will start to feel safe within yourself and feel soft and strong enough to remove some of your heavy, rusty armour and move with a lighter heart.
When you finally choose a path that resonates strongly with your heart, you will find a partner that your heart forgot it hoped for most of your life, someone who shares your deepest values and aspirations.
You will discover that everything was worth it. Everything.
I wish you the same, dear reader.
P.-S. I want to thank the editorial team for their precious help. Especially, Yvette, the Editor-in-Chief. Thank you so much much for creating such a safe and empowering place for minds like mine. Thank you for seeing me and helping me have faith in myself.
Editor's note: The term mixed race has been changed to bi-cultural by the author to accurately describe their lived experience.