Maki Ohkojima’s work: connecting ourselves to the planet

© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions

Selected out of 250+ applicants during a call for entries for our Tara Pacific artist in residence position, Maki Ohkojima and her work stood out. The minute you experience her life-sized work and personality you will understand why.


Maki Ohkojima's works on her version of the story of plankton_photo credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A4125Maki Ohkojima’s works on her version of the story of plankton © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Maki Ohkojima herself is a force of nature. She does not hold back. She engages honestly, kindly, and often humorously with the world around her. Maki’s insatiable curiosity about the connection of all things is expressed in an excerpt from her writing, “Soup of lives”:

“…Each of us repeat the birth and death cycle, the cells constituting the Earth.
Let us realize that a living being is not only unique, but also part of a vast collective life, one element of a vast ecosystem.

Only after this realization, we can imagine the cycle of life. Our body is an integral part of the mountain world, that of rivers, oceans, wind, fire and earth.
We, as a creature, operate in harmony with the sea and land. This principle of existence allows us to enter a new look at the whole world and ourselves.

Can we write on some notes brought the future to the stars become songs?

Listen to what we are trying to whisper oceans …”

Maki Ohkojima


Maki’s work focuses on the lifecycle and connection between humans, the environment, animals, and spirit – the grand connection of everything physical and energetic. This prolific 30-year-old artist engages her audience through painting, mural and video, depicting her view of nature and the world through her inner world. Her works reflect the influence of “premodern techniques, daring on ancient mythology, shamanism, and ritual that is carried on today in diverse cultural areas around the world” according to well-respected curator Mami Kataoka of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.


birds-view1ーsExhibition view © Dai-ichi Life South Gallery, Tokyo


So, what is it that has driven Maki to join the Tara schooner for one-and-a-half months across Japan? A deep desire to learn and understand more about the seen and unseen world of the ocean, its importance for the animals who call it home, and the oceans important connection for humans and the planet. She told Tara, “I want to know more about climate change and what is happening in the water. All of the ocean, the forest, the creatures – they are all connected and humans are just a part of the larger circulation of the universe”. Her previous work focuses on the life cycle of the forest and now she is moving her focus from land to the ocean – “since it is all connected”. Maki views her time aboard Tara as a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the ocean through the scientists’ and crews’ experience.

As a part of her research aboard Tara, Maki went snorkeling on the Ogasawara Islands of Japan, “In my mind I was imagining what it was like to be a small creature living in the ocean sustaining life there, embraced by the water, with a huge coral in front of me. I imagined that coral was like a brain of the ocean. Tara needs scientists to research, and also to show people what is happening inside the oceans. I want to express the knowledge I gain from experiencing it with my five senses and share my stories. We need more understanding in our mind and consciousness. Through art, people gain this knowledge of the world around them in a new way”.


Artist aboard Maki Ohkojima taking a video to use for inspiration later_photo credit Sarah Fretwell_ 0Q8A4241Artist aboard Maki Ohkojima taking a video to use for inspiration later © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


During Maki’s short time aboard, she has daily conversations with scientists about everything from plankton to coral, looking at books, reading papers, and asking endless questions to ensure she understands the inner workings of all of it, often jotting notes in her notebook. Once her research is complete, she can be found at various locations around the boat drawing the story of plankton or the comparison of human anatomy and life cycle with that of coral, and then going back to scientists to ask their opinion about the appropriate text.

Her work aboard Tara has truly been research and collaboration at its finest.

And as Kataoka put it in the synopsis of Maki’s exhibition, her intense need to understand fully can be summed up simply, “Her practice stands as a warning to those who do not understand the limits of humans and would repeat the folly of seeking to control others with force. In fact, it is this manifestation of sense of mission that drives her”.

The Taranauts are so honored to have Maki aboard and now to call her one of our own.

Sarah Fretwell



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