Maya Gurantz: The Plague Archives

January 28 – March 25, 2023

Maya Gurantz: The Plague Archives

Maya Guranz’s interdisciplinary research-based practice incorporates dance, video, performance, text, and installation, which she deploys to examine constructions of race, gender, and class in relation to shared myths, public rituals, and private desires. At Pitzer College Art Galleries, these ideas are manifested in The Plague Archives, a site-specific installation comprising two video projections and a dense collection of archival material on the social, cultural, and political histories of epidemics and outbreaks. Spanning the tenth through the twenty-first century, The Plague Archives, presents a multi-layered transhistorical and intercultural discourse on the shifting attitudes and definitions of disease.

Defined by Gurantz as experimental “lecture-performances,” the videos weave connections between disparate narratives associated with plague histories. In Great Men and Sheep, French microbiologist Louis Pasteur, renowned for his breakthrough discoveries on vaccines and pasteurization, is examined in relation to his experiments on sheep. Incorporating visual and textual information spanning a century, the video links various elements in connection with Pasteur: a conspiracy theory conflating vaccine fears with sex; patriarchy and the fiction of male genius; shifting notions of appropriate animal-human relations; and the mythical roots of Jesus as the “good pastor.” 

Alternatively, Productions of Whiteness maps the relationship between pandemics and racism across multiple locales. These include the bubonic plague of 1901, and the creation of the first South African townships, which later became a model for the apartheid state. Other aspects of the video examine early twentieth-century typhus outbreaks resulting in humiliating and unnecessary disinfections forced upon Mexican workers in El Paso, which triggered the Bath House Riots of 1919. These mass decontaminations served as inspiration for Nazi doctors in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

The materials referenced in Gurantz’s expansive video works form part of her on-going archive of ephemera exploring disease through multiple intersecting lenses—scientific, cultural, social, and political. Organized thematically into six sections (narrative, maps, pustules, the breast, public service announcements, and charms and amulets), each segment combines image and text from a plethora of sources including filmic, scientific, religious, and museological databases. Installed across the gallery in an associative manner, both the archive and its method of display encourage a non-linear reading of the subject of disease and its (mis)representation across different historical eras.


Maya Gurantz will give a performance in Lenzner Family Art Gallery, January 28, at 2:30 pm.

About the artist:

Maya Gurantz is an artist based in Los Angeles. Her work examines the social imaginaries of American culture and constructions of gender, race, class, and progress.

She has had solo exhibitions at Grand Central Art Center, MCA Denver, and Greenleaf Gallery, and has been included in group exhibitions at MoCA Utah, LAND (Nomadic Division), Art Center College of Design, Navel LA, Angels Gate Cultural Center, Oakland Museum of California, High Desert Test Sites, Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, Autonomie Gallery, and Movement Research at Judson Church. As part of the collective Box Blur Commission she has exhibited at Catharine Clark Gallery.

Gurantz’s writing has been published in The LA Review of Books, This American Life, Notes on Looking, The Frame at KPCC, ACID-FREE, The Awl, InDance Magazine, Theater Magazine, in the anthology CRuDE, published by École Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Bourges, and she is co-host of the weekly culture and politics podcase, The Sauce.


Maya Gurantz: The Plague Archives is curated by Ciara Ennis, Director and Curator of Pitzer College Art Galleries. Ennis received a PhD in Cultural Studies and Museum Studies from Claremont Graduate University and an MA in Visual Arts Administration, Curating, and Commissioning Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London.

Sat., Jan. 28, 2023
1 – 3:30 p.m.

Jan. 28 – Mar. 25, 2023


Pitzer College Art Galleries are currently closed for installation and will be open to visitors, beginning January 28, Tuesday – Saturday, 12:00 – 5:00 pm