Artists on Artworks—Meg Okura on Anxiety and Hope in Japanese Art 

Artists on Artworks—Meg Okura on Anxiety and Hope in Japanese Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by David Freeman
Artists on Artworks—Meg Okura on Anxiety and Hope in Japanese Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by David Freeman

NEW YORK – Artists on Artworks—Meg Okura on Anxiety and Hope in Japanese Art

In a dimly lit, tucked-away gallery on the second floor of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, surrounded by ancient Japanese art, renowned violinist and composer Meg Okura and pianist Brian Marsella gave an intimate, educational, and reflective forty-minute concert of new and improvised music on the theme of Anxiety and Hope.

The delightful concert was hosted by The Met’s Artists on Artworks, which asks artists to first explore the art in the gallery, see what it holds for them on a personal and artistic level, and return with a presentation of their new art.

The first sculpture you encounter as you enter the gallery is an ominous Bishamonten, guardian of the North. He stands on the bodies of demons and is said to protect Buddhist shrines and holy places. The sculpture was created during Japan’s Medieval period, 1188-1333. Behind Bishamonten sits a giant centuries-old Buddha, and to one side of that Buddha sits another, not as large but just as grand.

The space is sparsely lit to protect the art. Art is sensitive to light and sound waves, walking, talking, and music. The gallery of Japanese art twists and turns as you walk through, exhibiting pottery and paintings, including a strikingly beautiful Japanese kimono with skeletons painted on it. Death represents anxiety, Buddha represents hope. The objects, paintings, and sculptures all portray the balance of anxiety and hope in our lives.

As a Japanese woman, Okura has much to say about the art, ancient teachings, and beliefs of the Japanese people. Her compositions, which she and Hays shared, filled the room with a haunting beauty and expressed feelings of anxiety and hope, achieving recognition in all of us who were so blessed to be there. Just four strings on a violin, and Meg Okura manifests with them an orchestra of sounds both musical, familial, and otherworldly. Her music is alive with herself.

In between compositions, Okura talked about what it means to be Japanese and what that society expects of its citizens. She shared how a person is expected to live in a world of average and not personally shine. If you do something amazing at your job, the group you are a part of gets the recognition, not you, the individual. The individual is not heralded in Japanese culture. Men hope for a marriage that is boring so as to better fit in with the status quo. For obvious reasons, this incredibly versatile and talented woman left Japan to pursue her talents and share her artistic voice with the world.

Okura spoke of the feeling of hope in her life and that the opposite of hope is not hopeless. She asked the audience what we feel is the opposite of hope. My guest for the evening said “acceptance.” Hope is wishing for what is not actually there before us. Acceptance is to acknowledge the reality of life and accept it. From a place of acceptance it is possible to start to work on expansion and change.

Anxiety is a feeling we have all been experiencing since we were hit with a global pandemic that stopped life as we knew it. Rising out of anxiety has been our individual and collective constant since then. I encourage you to attend an Artists on Artwork event at The Met as a way to rise even further and seek to be a part of the ongoing conversation of art and its meaning and magic.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “We humans are creatures of form and color.” “Music,” he said, “lures us to search our souls for the meaning of the mysteries described in ancient works.” Exactly what we were doing at The Met with Okura as our guide, taking in the forms and colors created by humans and allowing the music to guide us to considerations both of and beyond those works.

At the end of the recital, Okura asked us to suggest musical notes and words. G was tossed out, and C, the word wood, and an A minor. From there, she and Marsella created an improvised piece that carried us all on its back. It was spectacular, marvelous. And I will never be able to stand at that spot in the museum again without recalling this magical experience.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028

(Assistive listening devices are provided in the gallery where the program begins. We encourage you to bring your own headphones. For other access accommodations, contact or 212-650-2010.)

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Laura Benanti at the Minetta Lane Theater, Brazilian Jazz at Le Bab Ilo in ParisMarilyn Maye birthday celebration at 54 BelowThe American Relics at Chelsea Table + StageGabrielle Stravelli at Chelsea Table + StageTribute to Chita RiveraThere’s A Little Starch Left at Don’t Tell MamaThe Sweet Spot, and The Days of Wine and Roses.


Artists on Artworks—Meg Okura on Anxiety and Hope in Japanese Art 


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