Mia Ohki is a Metis-Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut and raised in Alberta, Canada. She currently lives and works between Alberta and British Columbia. Ohki’s current style is described as ‘emotive minimalist illustration.’ Using the moniker Mia Ohki Illustrations, she recently completed her first solo art show entitled I Know What It Looks Like

Banter: Artists often struggle to find a healthy distance between themselves and the subject matter that inspires them. Have you had to address the problem of proximity in your work?

Ohki: The content of my illustrations revolves around my background and intimate emotional experiences, so I find proximity is usually a valuable component of creating rather than a problem. I do find that proximity can be a problem when it comes to others’ interpretations of my work. The viewer inevitably forms an opinion of the Artist from their art, and it’s not always an accurate representation of who the Artist believes themselves to be. I often see myself or draw myself in my work, and so when you hear others’ opinion of the work, you transplant those ideas onto your own perception. Proximity is helpful for injecting your work with passion, but it also opens one up to critique that can feel deeply personal. 

Banter: You mostly work in black and white, but your first solo show IKWILL features the deliberate use of three colors. Briefly, what do we need to understand about their significance?

Ohki: The colors I used for I Know What It Looks Like are red ochre, yellow ochre, and quinacridone orange. These colors have all had negative connotations in Canadian history; “Redskin” is an outdated, offensive term for indigenous peoples, ‘Yellow Peril’ is a term borne of the idea that Asian Canadians and Asian Americans posed a threat to their countries during the First and Second World Wars. Lastly, the orange is representative of the origin story of ‘Orange T-Shirt Day,’ a day that recognizes residential school system survivors in Canada. I hoped the use of these colors would be a sharp, noticeable contrast to the black and white style I usually work in, thus bringing attention to their unfavorable associations and reframing things in a positive, eye-catching aspect. More information about the colors as well as photos of the paintings can be found under the “IKWILL” portion of my website.

Banter: The majority of your illustrations focus energy on the representational aspect of figures instead of their personality. Why is this important for an artist who aims to fuse social and emotional history with their work?

Ohki: Focusing on the proportions and representations of figures to convey their emotions rather than their personality or outward expression allows the work to be approachable. Instead of giving the figures explicit emotion, their feelings are implicitly communicated by the positions and actions within the illustration. The lack of specific traits in my generic figures is an attempt to give the viewer an opportunity to connect to the emotion by putting themselves into the scene. I often call the people I draw ‘ethnically ambiguous’ because I don’t want the figures to be too specific, I would like them to be relatable representations of my social and emotional history.

Banter: The theme of the divine feminine seems to recur quite frequently in your pieces. Which influences shape how you depict that idea?

Ohki: The idea of the divine feminine is something I would like to explore even more in my work, even though the majority of my illustrations already feature a female figure. What currently surfaces can be summarized as an amalgamation of my personal experience being a woman and my continually developing interpretation of what femininity is. I don’t think there is one single definition, and so the figures in my work constantly evolve to suit my current viewpoint and inspirations. I mostly attempt to draw women who are empowered in their emotions, which shapes my portrayal of the divine feminine as a woman steadfast in her convictions and her passions.

To learn more, follow Ohki on Instagram or visit her website.