The Wash: Megumi Shauni Arai on Mindfulness Modalities

The Wash: Megumi Shauna Arai on Mindfulness Modalities

The Wash is a bi-weekly Interview series where we converse with artists, visionaries, poets, plant lovers & friends. We share with you here the musings and excitements happening in our community. 

This week Yves and Megumi talk about Mindfulness Modalities, her new workshop Connecting Hand & Heart: Mindfulness & Creative Expression, pedagogy, and process.

A woman at the window

Yves B Golden - What draws you to piecework and natural-dye traditions?

Megumi Shauna Arai - For me, it started with tree bark and papermaking, though making things with the earth has always been part of my practice. Working with my hands is equal part joy and equal part grounding. I find piecework and natural dye to be undeniably rich in metaphor and history. Doing this work has a direct impact on how I show up in the world.

YBG - What are your students about to experience in this class?

MSA - The idea is that it's tailored to the participants; we have an outline, materials, ideas, but we need to decide what that final artwork will be together. This is my invitation to collaborate with the group. As a teacher, I will facilitate based on the class’s interests, but I want to learn alongside everyone else. There are four instructors for this one class, so I’m looking forward to some cross pollination!

YBG - You're speaking my language as a bee lover, as a collaborator, as a nectar love…There is something very decadent about having your hands in these materials - between the dye and the textiles, sometimes the paper – it is itself the nectar which you create and extract by hand.

MSA - Right! I'm excited to see how it shapes us. These sort of mindfulness modalities show us how getting present affects what we want to make, or not make.

YBG - How do you get ready to do things with your hands? What gets your inspired and primed to create?

To be in the zone everyday, I have to drop expectations and demystify myself as an artist. If I felt the pressure to create a masterpiece in the studio I couldn’t do the work everyday. It’s more about the practice and the commitment to the process.

Generally though, I like to have quiet mornings for work in the studio. I put the phone away and make everything silent. I like to start with clear structure or an outline, then work from there. Starting from a place of clarity, I think, fosters a lot of creativity in the students as well.

"I find piecework and natural dye to be undeniably rich in metaphor and history. Doing this work has a direct impact on how I show up in the world."

Patchwork on a table

YBG - So, when did you feel aware enough of your contributions that you decided to teach this craft to others?

MSA - That’s such a big question! I've been making and doing this for a lot of years, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I have “contributions”. I still have questions and I'm still looking for experiences of learning when I share what I have.

YBG - I completely understand the impulse to resist professionalization. I feel like your medium is so modular and malleable. There’s so much to explore within it, even as a teacher.

MSA - I’m actually doing this because I want to stay a beginner. There’s too much pressure to peak and to be recognizable or professional. I get kind of claustrophobic sometimes and would like to resist becoming “fixed”. Besides, I feel like I am taking care of myself by accumulating new experiences so it’s best to stay a beginner forever.

YBG - Professionalism is definitely overrated. I get that it's best to keep things loose and to focus on sharing and doing what you can with what you have.

MSA - Actually, what you just said has so much to do with this course. I’m passionate about teaching and facilitating in the first place because it pushes me out of the role of the consumer citizen. I want to be the participatory citizen who grows and shares. It’s almost inevitable to become a consumer, but this process activates something else in me. A big part of this work is, also, about working with what’s around you.

YBG - I'm so drawn into your patchwork; I see a language or narrative reaching through the textiles. What stories are embedded in your sculptural art?

MSA - The textiles I work with can contain a lot of regional knowledge, traditions and identities. In some of my pieces, I layer the materials into abstract compositions to reveal new metaphors. As far as “narrative”, I think it's way less literal. I'm interested in how layers, folds, creases, transparency, and opacity can help articulate metaphorical selves, deeper layers in a person. I’m contemplating exteriority and interiority.

A quote

YBG - I appreciate how personal, but universal that is. I feel as though Calyx Studios represents an emphasis on intimacy and intimate knowledge that comes from within us. We are a resource, actually, and we should water that resource with expression and craft.

MSA - Actually, Cara and I were talking about how perfect things are within this space of becoming or open endedness. It’s freeing and it reflects something our inner selves want. Also, Cara looks at plants, natural dye in her work as part of healing and that brings the interior and exterior closer together. I think people really want to bridge those parts of themselves. That’s of interest to me.

YBG - That’s of interest to me as well. I know you are resistant to a fixed form, but I’d like to leave you with this provocation: if you could wear one color/hue/tone for the rest of your days, what would it be? And what material would you choose?

MSA - I really love to work with silk and I like the feel of it, too! I think I’d choose a cocoon of draped silk with blue, oceanic tones.

Megumi working at the table