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Mayumi Oda: Happy Activist

Mayumi Oda
Mayumi Oda

Artist Mayumi Oda who lives in Kealakekua is represented in major international collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Since 1992, Oda has dedicated herself to a nuclear free world, and she’s showing some of her best work in Hilo now.

Yuko Ishikawa of  MikazukiCamera.com
Credit Mayumi Oda
Artist Mayumi Oda lives in Kealakekua, Hawai'i Island, on her organic farm, Ginger Hill Farm.

“Expression of the Female Deity,” works by Mayumi Oda, continues at the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center in Hiilo through May 31, 2019.

“I’m a happy activist.”

Andrzej Kramarz
Credit Andrzej Kramarz
"Expressions of the Female Deity," works by Mayumi Oda in the newly revived Eaast Hawai'i Cultural Center. A former Police Station, the gallery sports up and downstairs exhibition/meeting spaces and a theater on the second floor.

Ever heard of such a thing?  Artist Mayumi Oda isn’t griping about anything in her work.  Called the Matisse of Japan, in Oda’s art, imagine a loosely brushed goddess surfing, a comical daikon five times larger than its cart, gardens and Buddhist imagery abound.

The pieces in her current show relate to the Hindu goddess Sarasvati.

Oda:  She’s the goddess of creativity and also she’s compassionate.  Compassion and creativity are two ways people can change the world.  Without creativity, you can’t change.

Mayumi Oda
Credit Mayumi Oda
Mayumi Oda. Pele. Acrylic on Raw Canvas, 1991. Original Thangka Painting, Not For Sale. Prints available. "Pele, the active goddess of creation and destruction of the land, is painted as a red Dakini, with molten lava forming the fertile land that gives birth to the fruits and vegetables of Hawaii. Here she is depicted as Tutu Pele, an old woman carrying her walking stick."

Oda’s father was a Zen Buddhist who clued Oda in to the importance of concentration and  being present.  

Oda has maintained a Zazen meditation practice through her adult life, and Buddhist and other sacred imagery is prominent in her artwork.  The wheel of dharma, lotus throne, and especially goddesses are there, with turnips and bok choi, historical figures, fish, dragons, and simply nudes delighting in a garden.  I asked, what does mindfulness mean?

Oda:  It means being here now. 

How do you do that? 

Oda:  Meditate.  Sit.  Be quiet.  You live in a life of “about.”  about what the cellphone tell syou.  But actually, you’re just here, breathing.

What is your mind doing?

Oda:  Quiet.

How do you not think?

Oda:  Not to talk, like you’re doing!  Just be there, with your heart.  Not talking.  So I can’t explain to you while I’m talking.

Oda grew up in Japan, and spent years in New England, New York, and California. She chose to settle on Hawai‘i island for a reason.

Oda:  It’s not just Hawai‘i, but it’s the place called Kealakekua.  Originally it was called Ke ala ke akua, pathway of God.  Incredible stars, you can see.  Vog is gone, the skies are clear, water is clear, it’s incredible.  

Mayumi Oda
Credit Mayumi Oda
Mayumi Oda. Hanuman. Acrylic on Raw Canvas, 1991. Original Thangka Painting, Not For Sale. Prints available. "Hanuman stands on the island of Hawaii, in the center of the Pacific, holding the globe in his left hand and a shaker in his right hand. I painted this in 2016, the year of the Fire Monkey, to inspire the passion and creativity of young people, and to give them hope for the future."

Basically I moved here because I love the night, the stars, it really feels like you’re a part of the universe.  I love that feeling, I’m a part of a big universe.

Now that’s a great feeling.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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