She’s a professional artist with two master of fine arts degrees, one from the Corcoran College of Art and Design, the other from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, but Akemi Maegawa looks at art unconventionally.
“There are no rules in art-making,” the Bethesda-based ceramic sculptor insisted. “I want people to be more comfortable, to engage with art. Many people feel that art is so difficult to understand, especially contemporary art. I want more ‘regular people’ to have easy access, to go see more art.”
And “Free Space,” the exhibition Maegawa and her friend and fellow artist Jackie Hoysted have collaborated on at Silver Spring’s Betty Mae Kramer Gallery and Music Room, is a perfect example of contemporary art that is at once conceptual and fully interactive.
“Ceramics is a very traditional medium, but it can be used in completely new ways,” explained Maegawa, who was born in Japan. “All of humanity knows about this medium, so I want to connect those dots, to raise the questions and make it very accessible.”
Maegawa always drew and painted, but she worked in the finance industry and wasn’t able to study art until she was an adult. “It was my dream,” she said. She was introduced to the D.C. area by the man she would eventually marry, and has lived here for 18 years now, incorporating her experiences as an immigrant into her work.
“I try to make conceptual work using this historically old material, but talking about our time,” she explained, adding that she uses ceramics to “express my experience and point of view as an outsider — and now an insider — in a Western country. It’s a strange position: I did not grow up in the U.S., but I feel at home here.”
Like Maegawa, Hoysted is an immigrant married to an American. She started out in the information technology industry, with a degree from Trinity College in her native Dublin, Ireland. In 1994, something changed.
“I walked by an art store and decided to buy a book on how to draw,” she remembered. “And that was it.” Also, like Maegawa, she ended up at the Corcoran — Hoysted has an associate’s degree in fine art — and has settled into a career as a fine artist, creating in mixed media and working as a curator for Solas Nua, a D.C.-based Irish contemporary arts organization.
Sometimes her background in IT gets incorporated in her work. “For the longest time, I didn’t want to use a computer when I took up art,” she said. “But now things have come full circle, and I try to integrate programming into my work.”
She also tries to make her work interactive, noting that interactivity can take many forms, whether she is inviting viewers to mix colors, rearrange shapes or leave feedback about how a particular piece of participatory artwork made them feel. Once, a young woman used one of Hoysted’s interactive pieces to create a “promposal,” much to the artist’s delight.
“There’s no one way I approach interactivity,” she said. “I try to make it fun and interesting. First and foremost, I get great joy having people engage with my artwork. It’s amazing to me.”
That kind of engagement is a key objective for Amina Cooper, public art manager at the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County and curator of the “Free Space” exhibit.
“One of the things that we try to do at the Arts and Humanities Council is to encourage residents and visitors to become engaged with art,” she explained. “Sometimes just viewing art on a wall can be passive, so we try to get people to really have a tactile experience of art, where they can touch it and make their own art.
“We want to create a space for people to become artists, in a sense, and to really get a deeper idea of the concepts these artists are exploring by getting involved.”
Cooper said that the “Free Space” exhibit is great for visitors of all ages, and that at Maegawa’s suggestion, they have brought in tables for families and children to create their own art. She notes that while Hoysted and Maegawa, as immigrants, reflect the diversity for which Montgomery County is known, the two friends also offer a unique perspective. “I was looking for artists that were doing both conceptual work and work that invited community participation.
“One of the things I try to do as a curator is make sure we have all types of artists representing all disciplines and materials in the gallery space,” she added, noting that with only four to five exhibitions a year in the gallery, diversity is key.
“I realized that we had not had an exhibition of this type, which encourages and depends on interaction from visitors.
“This is an opportunity to achieve that.”
The Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (AHCMC) presents “Free Space,” featuring artists Akemi Maegawa and Jackie Hoysted, through Friday, Sept. 7 at the Kramer Gallery and Music Room, 1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; admission is free and open to the public. Call 301-565-3805 or visit kramergallery.squarespace.com.