Resting atop a palm-sized ceramic tree trunk, an egg-shaped figure sheds a solitary tear in the foyer of Akemi Maegawa’s Silver Spring studio. It’s at once adorable and distressing.
In Give Me Sun, Water, Soil and Seed With a Little Bit of Hope, running Jan. 13-Feb. 17 at Arlington’s Metro Micro Gallery, Maegawa presents flower pots with feet, rows of tiny ceramic houses, tree stumps and other imagery depicting an environment in flux. Though the pieces initially appear docile and fanciful, the contemporary artist is careful to warn that the message behind the artwork is not amusing.
“This consumer-culture thing is killing us, but we tend not to really seriously think [about] it every day,” Maegawa says.
Gallery founder Barbara Januszkiewicz says she approached Maegawa—an accomplished mixed-media artist with past exhibitions in D.C., New York and California—after spotting her at several art shows and learning the impact nature and Zen Buddhism have on Maegawa’s work.
A reappearing icon is the Daruma doll, common in Maegawa’s native country, Japan. The doll represents the founder of Zen Buddhism, who meditated in the mountains for so long he achieved wide-eyed enlightenment but labored away both his legs and arms. Today, Maegawa says, it is used as a visual reminder of perseverance.
Given Maegawa’s professional background, she may be employing this figure—which she shows sleeping, smiling and adopting other nontraditional expressions—almost ironically. Though she continues to toil away most days in her studio, she chose the field as a less stressful alternative to her “life-threatening” high-pressure finance career in Japan.
“I almost really couldn’t function,” Maegawa says. In a work environment with high stress, Maegawa had grown ill, barely able to eat, and made the decision to pursue a passion she’d had since childhood. She moved to the United States in 2001 and began studying art at what is now the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design.
Give Me Sun will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the gallery. Housed in quarters the size of a walk-in closet, the art space features no docents but perpetually keeps its lights on so that passersby can take in new work through the windows.
“There’s very few visual walls in the whole Northern Virginia area for artists to show at, and there’s less and less galleries,” says Januszkiewicz, who launched the gallery in 2016. “So this is sort of like an experimental space, but it still has the essence of a gallery.” Januszkiewicz emphasizes community-building in the gallery mission, asking current exhibitors to curate a future show in order to “pay it forward” to the larger creative community.
While Maegawa prepares for this show, she’s also keeping up with daily social media updates on her costume-wearing pet hedgehog, Chikulik—who boasts 35.1 thousand followers on Instagram (@chikkunmama). The transition to an art career, she says, has brought personal fulfillment.
“Making a real thing is so much better than just playing numbers.”