Osamu James Nakagawa

Osamu James Nakagawa

Fellow: Awarded 2009
Field of Study: Photography

Competition: US & Canada

Indiana University

Osamu James Nakagawa was born in New York City and raised in Tokyo. He returned to the United States, moving to Houston, Texas, at the age of 15. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of St. Thomas Houston in 1986 and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Houston in 1993. Currently, Mr. Nakagawa is an associate professor of photography at Indiana University. He lives and works in Bloomington, Indiana.

Mr. Nakagawa’s work is shown internationally. Exhibitions include the one-person shows Course: Banta, SEPIA International Inc., New York City; Osamu James Nakagawa, Ma-between the past, McMurtrey Gallery, Houston; Kai: Osamu James Nakagawa, SEPIA International Inc; Mado, Houston Center for Photography. Selected group shows include Traces and Omens, 2005, Noorderlicht Photofestival, Groningen, Netherlands, Contemporary American Photography, 7 International Fototage 2005, Mannheim, Germany; Common Ground, Corcoran Museum of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.; Cuenca, Ecuador Bienal ’98: Borderline Figuration; Medialogue-Photography in Contemporary Japanese Art ’98, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; and Field of Vision: Five Gulf Coast Photographers, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. His work has been published and reviewed in Art It, Art News, New York Times, New Yorker Magazine, Time Magazine, Village Voice, Aperture, Metamorphoses, Edition Stemml, Waterproof, Enfoco, Nueva Luz, and others.

Osamu James Nakagawa received grants and fellowship from the Japan Foundation, Santa Fe Center for Visual Arts, Indiana Arts Commission, The Light Work, Syracuse, New York; Anderson Ranch Arts Center Co.; Houston Center for Photography; The American Photography Institute, New York City; Cultural Arts of Houston/Harris County. His work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, Japan; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago;  and others.


Artist’s Statement

During my Guggenheim Fellowship term, I would like to expand my current body of digital photography work to include the gama caves in Okinawa. My current work Banta (Cliffs) deals with the Okinawan banta cliffs that became known as “Suicide Cliffs” because of the large number of Okinawans who took their own lives there immediately prior to and during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Like the banta cliffs, the gama caves also witnessed thousands of tragic and unimaginable deaths. Just like the Banta series, I envision this new work not as a literal documentation of the gama caves. Instead I see the digitally constructed and manipulated images as an exploration of the historically and politically loaded landscapes that these sites represent.

As a Japanese/American living in the United States for the past thirty years, I feel like an outsider in both cultures. My wife is from Okinawa, and hence I have inherited a third culture. Still I am stranger in all the places my family could call “home.” The duality and conflict of this experience is the motivation for my photographic exploration, and I am personally invested in finding points of connection and disconnection between actual and constructed memories on both cultural and familial levels.

With this new work, I hope to challenge the ongoing cultural and societal ambivalence towards the conflicting histories of Okinawa through a hyper-real interpretation of the gama caves, landscapes that witnessed the mass suicides of thousands of Okinawans at the end of World War II.


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