Megumi Naganoma [Interview]
Interview with Megumi Naganoma
October 2019 Resident
“When we hear the word rape, for a moment we feel sympathy for some unknown person and move on. Rape is negative, and since we avoid negativity, we continue scrolling, flip the channel, or change the conversation topic.
Through my own experiences, as well as a sense of responsibility and respect for all survivors, my artwork puts the subject of rape at the center of conversation. I am driven by the need to expand compassion for those who carry this weight. We think of it as a crime that rarely happens, that the attackers and “victims” are far away strangers, when normally that is not that case.
I work with various materials, such as fabric and acrylic paints, and use a range of techniques to get my message across, from line drawing to hand-sewing. My work is often composed of metaphors such as my use of hand-sewing. It takes time; it does not have short cuts and may be sloppy, much like recovery.
Each rape survivor carries an experience unique to them; their stories may never be told, or worse, may fall of deaf ears. The community is mistaken to be few, but there are millions of rape survivors. My artwork is an avenue for discussion and awareness for those unknowing. It is recognition for those living with the weight of violation forced unto them. It is validation.”
Mineral House Media: When did you start making art and how has your work changed over time?
Megumi Naganoma: I honestly can’t remember when I started. My work took a turn when I was nineteen. After being raped, I lost interest and tried to ignore what had happened. A few family and friends knew and they were a great support system, but it wasn’t enough. Leading up to the first anniversary I started making little pieces about women’s rights, it started making me feel better and on the anniversary itself I revealed to everyone the truth. Since then, I’ve continued to make artwork raising awareness about rape and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sometimes it’s about my own experiences but often it’s about others, with their permission.
MHM: Your materials vary from line drawings to fabric sculptures. In your artist statement you mention metaphors symbolically embedded within your fabric hand-sewn pieces, stating, “It takes time; it does not have shortcuts and may be sloppy, much like recovery.” Can you expand more on this metaphor in your studio process? Tell us more about the materials that you use.
MN: I see each stitch as the passing of time. In order for my hand-sewn work to exist I have to sit there and sew each tiny part and built until I get the result I desire. I am still healing, but with each day that has passed, I am further away from my attackers. I continue evolving in my resilience. Each day takes pain away, even if it is only a tiny tiny bit. It’s been years now and I’ll have bad days from time to time, but when I look back, I am nowhere near where I was that first year. I believe this is true for most, if not all, survivors. I’m not trying to speak for anyone else but it feels like with any trauma, there’s relearning and evolving to be done and that takes time.
MHM: I understand that many of your sculptures and installations are informed by your experiences with sexual assault survivors. Can you tell us more about these interactions, meetings, or support groups? What is your process in reaching out to the community?
MN: In my first year as a survivor I felt very alone, until I met another survivor. She allowed me to ask questions and talk about my own attacks and was there to support me. Before her, nobody I talked to understood what I felt. My art began as part of my healing, but the more I talked about what happened to me, the more I was approached by others who felt I was an ally. I have been entrusted with so many stories.. I know it’s more than one hundred. It’s upsetting. So apart from my own healing and apart from raising awareness in general I wanted the world to know other’s stories; others who felt comfortable enough to allow me to share their story while keeping them anonymous. The people whose stories I share are those that have come to be first. Each person I’ve asked to participate in my work knows there is no expectations, they can say “no”.
MHM: Have you found it easier to open up and talk about negative experiences and trauma since you started making this type of work?
MN: It started that way, absolutely. For a while now I have been able to without depending on my artwork, but I am grateful to it.
MHM: How do you think the creative community could do better to support and engage these important conversations?
MN: I think we’re eager to share sometimes. We need to remember that we don’t know who has been through somethjng traumatic and try to remain conscious and empathetic. I went to a show for Rape Awareness Month about five years ago. I thought I’d feel safe and feel understood among the artists’ work but I was triggered by three disperate pieces as I tried to make my way out. The artists had shared their work with audio and visuals and it threw me into the past; as if it was happening again. It was one of my worst PTSD attacks in public. That show made me aware that I don’t want my art to be upsetting. I want survivors to be able to be around my work. I try to be conscious of warnings, sounds, and imagery. If I’ve created something graphic I make sure viewers know well before the approach the piece. I think taking these things into consideration can help extend conversation to those that have been through traumatic events and feel it is okay that they talk.
MHM: Can you tell us more about your journals? When did you start this? Is this a daily ritual of yours?
MN: I started the doodle books a little over two years ago. I had just moved to New York and didn’t really have anyone and needed a way to quiet my mind down. I doodle whenever I need to release stress, calm myself, or sometimes just keep my mind a little busy. It overall helps me focus better on other things.
MHM: Outside of your studio art practice, what else is healing to you?
MN: The ocean. I grew up in south Florida and it was always part of my childhood. After what happened to me I used to go and stare at it. Now I go and clean it as often as I can.
MHM: What’s next for you in the studio?
MN: I want to keep sewing cones but that will have to wait until I move somewhere with a bit more space. For now, I’m continuing with the doodle books and I’ve been thinking about making more video art.
More on Megumi
Born and raised in south Florida, Megumi Naganoma is an interdisciplinary artist. Most of her work is inspired by her own experiences and research focused on bringing awareness to issues about sexual violence and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Naganoma graduated from Florida State University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree for Studio Art and a minor in Art History. During the summer of 2016, Naganoma interned for Judy Pfaff in Tivoli, New York, where she assisted with new pieces for upcoming shows that fall. In the first six months of 2017, Naganoma was a teaching artist in residency in Thomasville, Georgia. After two years at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she graduated in May of 2019 with a Masters of Fine Arts degree in sculpture. During her last semester as a student and for a few months afterwards, she worked for Judy Pfaff as a studio assistant. She had recently relocated to south Florida.
Naganoma dominantly works in fabric, video, and drawing when working with her trauma, as well as others'. Her practice responds to current events, stigmas, and societal norms. Using these methods, she advocates for rape survivors, while keeping various audiences in mind by starting conversations that continue to shed light on something that is often still seen as taboo.