We had the good fortune of connecting with Aya Uekawa and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Aya, how do you think about risk?
Good risks can possibly initiate a positive change to one’s life, while bad risks have higher possibility of bringing negative results. But without risk taking, one’s life won’t change into a positive stage of life. Deciding which risk to take often comes from a fear of the outcome if one did not take the risk.

The biggest risk I have taken in my life is coming to America to study contemporary art. After graduating from a college in Japan, I decided to travel alone to study art in New York during a severe declining Japanese economy. Most people around me were against my choice and called it as an escape from reality. But at that time, new college graduates employment rate were dramatically dropping. Japanese companies have a custom to employ new young people all at once for April enrollment. If I missed the opportunity, it would be very difficult for me to be employed as a full time worker. However, the fear of regretting not studying art later in my life pushed me forward.  Even if I didn’t make it after taking the risk, at least I will not regret that I did not try. It was a life changing decision, and defined my career as an artist.
The reason I chose New York City to study art is not only because it is a capital of contemporary art, but also because it is an ‘escape’ from the rigid social system in Japan. Japan’s culture nurtures uniformity rather than individual uniqueness, which prevents from developing artistic creativity and critical thinking. But from what I experienced, it is true; as an artist in America, I have to be proactive to figure out something I need, while Japan will guide me what to do. My move to America may be an ‘escape’, but it was extremely challenging to adjust myself socially and culturally in addition to the language barrier. After spending half of my life living in a different culture, it has influenced prominent themes in my works. This journey to search for my own utopia where I can create art freely. My work reflects an endless quest of finding personal utopia within a world of contradictions.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have a quote by Frank Gehry in my studio: “The best advice I’ve received is to be yourself. The best artists do that.” I have to remind myself this idea, as it is easily forgotten in midst of information society and social media.

Creative practice is an investigation of being, or realizing, self. I am still learning through art making. My work explores the ambivalence between individual identity and the surrounded environment through deeply psychological portraiture and figurative imagery. Revealing a vulnerable perspective as a foreigner, minority, and female, the figures in my works are self-reflexive; as well as nonspecific others.

I am currently working on a series of Japanese female samurai during Warring State Period(1467 – 1615). It was the time when most of samurai families involved in wars against each other. Women of samurai families played important roles during this period. While many of the women ended their lives as tragic figures, some lived and contributed to sustain their families. They were brave survivors who steering their lives during one of the most difficult periods in Japanese samurai history. I want to use this period as a metaphor of our current experience of pandemic and honor anyone who is going through difficulties. The paintings can connect the historic female figures and modern geometric forms by juxtaposing these two very different elements. These geometric forms are based on circles, which universally refer as female, as well as sun, rotations, wholeness, and many other local meanings. This universality is used as a key to connect to viewers from different cultures.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
As an artist who lives in Hudson Valley, I will recommend Dia:Beacon. It is a rare museum who hosts so many massive art works indoors. Visiting there is an experience of being a part of art. After the museum, having lunch on the cute main street of Beacon is a nice experience. Walk along Hudson River is relaxing and often encounter with wild life. If a visitor wants to see more art, infamous Storm King Art Center also hosts many large scale and environment art.  Olana State Historic Site has a beautiful architecture built by an Hudson River School painter, Frederic Church, along artworks and nature. There is also Fishkill Farm, an organic farm that offers their hard apple cider we can taste while looking at idyllic distant mountain views.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to shout out thanks to pioneer female artists whom I look up to my mentors, and all artworks, artists, and creators I appreciate and am influenced by, in addition to my partner, friends, family, and supporters who encouraged me to pursue to be and stay as an artist. Throughout this pandemic I have been reminded a lot of love and positive relationships with family. I greatly appreciate my daughter, who changed my life. Although having a child may have pushed my career back as I stayed with her full time for a while during the babyhood, I received more than I lost.

Website: ayauekawa.com

Instagram: ayauekawa

Facebook: Aya Uekawa

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