The Bay Area meets Kanazawa in Maya Fuji’s bright and beautiful explorations
With two solo exhibitions on the horizon, Maya tells us about her flourishing practice and how she’s inspired by multiculturalism, multiracialism and multinationalism.
- Jyni Ong
- 13 January 2022
In Maya Fuji’s new solo exhibition, she shows a series of paintings titled Humid Nostalgia. The striking series of works features Maya’s signature bold colour palette, painted with smooth lashings and depicting divine creatures, often naked and at ease in their lush foliage-filled environments. The series takes inspiration from the artist’s childhood summers spent at her grandma’s house in Kanazawa, Japan, where she was also born. A small city located in the North West countryside, Maya describes the location as unique “because while modernised, it holds many remnants of pre-Westernised times,” she tells us.
A far cry from the bustling urban landscape of Tokyo and the other major cities, Kanazawa had few foreigners in its midsts. Maya continues, “leaving me the only mixed race child in the classroom or playground.” Growing up, she explains, “I was constantly reminded of my ‘otherness’ when in Japan, despite a deep connection to culture and traditions, leaving me feeling similarly foreign when back in the US.” These feelings pour into Maya’s evocative work. Her paintings feature a range of different bodies in a variety of poses, surrounded by both Japanese and North American elements.
“Most of my work is inspired by both my cultural heritage as well as the local microcosms of the San Francisco Bay Area,” adds the artist. Drawing out elements of Kanazawa’s historic architecture and traditional crafts, she then mixes in influences from the Bay Area where she grew up amongst friends of all different cultures. Examining themes of what it means to be multicultural, multiracial and multinational, she creatively explores how a sense of identity comes about. Importantly, Maya’s themes resonate with people from all backgrounds, an intention she sets while planning the work. “I love connecting and hearing stories of people’s experiences and how they can stay connected to their multiple cultures,” she adds.
Maya has always loved drawing and painting but, interestingly, she decided not to pursue it after high school. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration and later studied for a Master’s in Accounting where she hoped to become a tax accountant. She started working at an accounting firm when she realised that this career path was “not going to make me happy”. When asking herself what she really wanted to do, she realised she was happiest when working on creative hobbies. And with that in mind, she stopped letting nerves get in the way of pursing art, and decided to drop out of grad school.
Moving back to San Francisco, she started taking classes in screen printing, honing her style which also translates to digital illustration and painting. At the same time, she worked in hospitality, but when the pandemic hit and she lost her job at the restaurant; she was faced with a crossroad. “It felt like a now or never moment,” she says, and in turn, she ended up committing herself 100 per cent of the time to art. Challenging herself to take to new creative heights, she used YouTube to learn Procreate and airbrushing techniques and created a new illustration a day for 100 days. In this way, she devised a core creative process which involves sketching out an illustration on the iPad followed by carefully choosing a colour palette and then painting the image onto canvas.
Using such techniques, Maya has forged a powerful artist presence. Set to exhibit two new shows this year, the first in May at Voss Gallery and second in November at Swim Gallery, she’s also about to work with Streams Gallery in Hong Kong and will be showing more work in Asia (“a dream of mine!”). Here, she’ll show her best known works to date including Humid Nostalgia and Hyakkiyakō. The former is a series of paintings highlighting the juxtaposition of cultural identity Maya experienced growing up. She nods to household objects as well as the summer heat of festivals which trigger childhood memories. To this day, these are the things that keep her feeling rooted to her Japanese identity.
In the latter, another series of paintings, Maya turns her attentions to more traditional themes of Japanese culture. Hyakkiyakō directly translates to demon or devil or monster parade, referring to a parade of thousands of supernatural creatures floating through the night streets of Japan. The painting series uses Japanese folklore as a starting point, offering her own interpretation of old ghost stories and spinning them on family heirlooms to imagine another life for the treasured objects. “I love the idea that my grandma's old sewing box or the old pot my family has been using since before I was born could be coming out to play tricks at night,” she finally goes on to say. “It makes me respect and use my things with more care and be less wasteful.”
GalleryMaya Fuji (Copyright © Maya Fuji, 2021)
Maya Fuji: Hyakkiyakō IV (Copyright © Maya Fuji, 2021)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.