Healing Process

Last week I was honored to speak about my #MeToo art and the story behind it to the Soroptimist International of St.Helena. To this group of open, compassionate women, for the first time, I told my entire story of childhood sexual abuse at age 3, the abandonment, denial and  betrayal by my family and the years of growing up with recurrent nightmares, anxiety, fear and distrust I shared some of my #MeToo art. Also, for the first time, I introduced my #MeToo Journey, a five-step process of Healing and Transformation that grew out of my need to move beyond the terror and trauma of that long ago experience.  Creating the #MeToo art as an adult is Step 1 of that process leading towards Transformation. It is Truth Telling, the first step. Read on for my complete #MeToo Journey. It is a challenging and beautiful journey. Would you care to join me? The destination is Transformation.

My #MeToo art marks the first step towards that end.  It holds the emotional, psychic truth of my experience of childhood sexual abuse. Abuse that my family denied. Abuse that left me isolated and alone, guilty, shamed and hurting from age three. Abuse that left me silenced, invisible, terrified and determined to protect myself as the adults would not. 


Step one is telling the truth. Standing up and facing down the forces to stay silent, invisible.
The forces that demand we keep the boat steady , the water of everyone else’s feelings even and undisturbed. Currently there is a tsunami of truth telling from women. I’m honored to be a drop in this huge ocean.

On the journey to wholeness, healing and transformation after sexual harm, the first step is Truth Telling


Step two is Witnessing. Truth needs to be heard, received and acknowledged. It needs to be included in the consciousness of others who care enough to bear witness. The circle of inclusion that true Witnessing provides, draws the shattered soul out of isolation, abandonment and fear into community, safety and protection. 
Witnessing requires love, courage, an open heart and the willingness to experience discomfort.
Both Truth-Telling and Witnessing requires courage.
I’m deeply grateful to all those brave people who gave witness to my experience; who stand before my art and see, not just the pain, but also, the beauty of creativity and the way that play and visual inventiveness can infuse the most distressing subjects. This is a form of communion.
It is a form of liberation for healing for both creator and viewer. It is its own kind of Beauty.

Step three is Liberation. Moving from the darkness of secrecy, hiding and isolation into the heart-expanding light and warmth of being heard and being seen by compassionate, empathetic, receptive others.It is Liberation from the prison of self concealment into the warmth, light and love of caring community. How did you "liberate " yourself from darkness?

Moving from the darkness of secrecy is liberation

Moving from the darkness of secrecy, hiding and isolation into the heart-expanding light and warmth of being heard and being seen by compassionate, empathetic, receptive others. is Liberation from the prison of self concealment into the warmth, light and love of caring community.

Step four. In this step of the #MeToo journey, we experience the Restoration and Belonging that comes from having ones true story and authentic experience received and integrated into the conscious life and story of the community. We are no longer wounded beings hiding in the underbrush and brambles. We are valued members of the tribe being brought into the circle of light and warmth of belonging and nurture.  We are restored as individuals and as full, treasured members of the collective.  And as the separating wall of secrecy dissolves, the community itself is expanded, enlivened and enriched.

Step five. Transformation. It is real. It can happen. It happens when the restoration to a caring community and the belonging that restoration generates heals the wounds of sexual harm and trauma. The community. The warm and tender place where the embrace of loving hearts heals the cracks and fissures. Community calls  the broken pieces of Self  into Wholeness. The Wholeness is the chrysalis with all the codes, all the information necessary for total Transformation:  from wounded to healed, from victim to Victor, from excluded to Included, from caterpillar to Butterfly, from invisibility to Visibility.  From disempowered to fully Empowered. Magnificence. Transformation. It’s real. For individuals, for every single person in community who cares enough to hear Truth, bear Witness, give Caring and Loving, embrace Transformation. It's there for us all.

 #MeToo16 artwork

#MeToo16 artwork

Censored

•Being Censored. One of my proudest moments! To be right up there withJames Joyce, Henry Miller, Maya Angelou, Kate Chopin, and other illustrious censored writers.

Spring 2018 my poem, “The Burial” was accepted to a juried visual/literary arts exhibit at a Northern California Civic Gallery. Yay Me!! The day of installation, the curator called me. “The gallery says we cannot put your poem on display because it’s a family-oriented gallery and your poem has the word ‘rape’ in it. “’Rape’ is a family word, I reply. “60% of sexually molested children aged 6 and under are molested by family members.* A family-oriented gallery could be initiating the discussion.”

The gallery did not agree with me. They did agree to allow the poem to be displayed and read if I omitted the word “rape”. So we redacted the word “rape” with a black rectangle, and I did not speak the word, just left a space of silence where the word would be when I read.

This is 2018. This is the era of #MeToo. When will family-oriented galleries represent the truth of families? How and when have you been silenced?

The Burial

What’s left of the good daughter now
that the Silence is broken?

A tooth?
A hank of hair?

There are no bones.
Bones require weight,
and weight was not
allowed. Nor heft,
nor muscle.

Anorexia is the apotheosis
of what is required:
A starvation of the flesh
for the pure spirit
of compliance.
The absolute will
to not be.

So when the Silence is broken,
what’s left?

Only the empty spaces we
carry within, and Sound.

Sound like the upper
registers of a bat cry
caroming off walls.
Screams that locate us and set
dogs howling. (Can the dogs remember
their masters?)
We are here.
In the dark.
We have voices in registers that no one hears.
We have bodies made of empty spaces.

The Silence is broken.

What’s left of the good daughter?

We gather her trinkets: the trophies
with engraved plates, the metal awards,
the certificates of merit, the badges, the diplomas.
We wish for more.

But the Silence is broken.
We hear only the shattering roar
of our own guilt, we sense
her screams like dogs sense death.


Mother, please hold me,
Uncle raped me.
Father stop shouting,
I am seeing only black sky.
I am blinded by the darkness.
My brother cannot walk.
His eyes are vacuums.
They suck in from the sides.
The pupils cower in corners.

We were loyal like Cordelia.
Disabused of love, of belief,
we returned to rescue the
unrescuable. We persevered.

They relied on that.
But now the Silence is broken.


What’s left of the good daughter?

Karen Nagano

©KarenNagano2018

 #MeToo 2

#MeToo 2

#MeToo: Facing the Truth is Liberation

It feels auspicious to be going live with my website store and my first offering of Limited Edition Fine Art Prints on the Summer Solstice.  The theme of this group of prints:

#MeToo:  Facing the Truth is Liberation.
Fine Art Prints from Karen Nagano’s #MeToo series.
Evocative, provocative, creative images about sexual harm and its effects.

Read about the genesis of this body of work here.  Or hop on over to the store,  see the images first and come on back to read their history.

Either way, I’m honored by your presence.  My wish for you is that owning a piece of my  #MeToo Art gives you the freedom, release, healing and transformation that comes with accepting and embracing the Truth.

#MeToo

Me too!  Me too!  Me too.  The words resound globally.  So sad.  So tragic.  So heart wrenching.  So true. So many.  And, me too.  Really, actually.  When I was a child.  By someone I was pushed to trust.  Someone I didn’t like, whom I shrank away from.  Whom I avoided. 

But the adults, hell bent on socializing me into an acceptable feminine norm urged, cajoled and browbeat me to “polite” interactions, hugs, engagement.  Even now I can feel the prickling sensation of alarm that stirred me to run away, but fearing the reprimands and scoldings, I stayed.  I allowed.  Until those socially adaptive adults disappeared and the worst happened.  A world shattered.

His final words to me:  “If you tell, I will kill you.”  I believed him.  I was three.

#MeToo.

Am now feeling deep gratitude to be in this time and place to be able to offer Fine Art Prints  from my #MeToo series, a body of work in mixed mediums that express the psychic, emotional effects of sexual harm and its environment.  Even though some of the pieces, which I then called “Fractured Figures” sold and were acclaimed, the rejection and silencing from my family shattered me on yet another level.  I could not manage to sustain that level of vulnerability then.   I withdrew the work and went on to other themes.

My affection for the #MeToo “Fractured Figures,” never waned however.  From the moment I picked up the stylus and watched the shattered figures emerge from its tip, a feeling of love and wonder and affection flowed through me.  I watched the images emerge through my own hand and heart and felt so much compassion for the strange broken, wounded figures.  The beauty, the playfulness, the spaciousness delighted me.  For the first time since the moment of sexual abuse, I felt my wholeness and knew I was okay.

Allowing the truth to emerge whole and unadulterated, standing in the moment without flinching.  Embracing it with compassion.  Connecting with that part of ones self that is bigger than the parts, bigger than the event, bigger than the threat, the denials, the cover-ups, the lies.  Bigger than the shattering and the remaining wounds.  That is what creating these works gave me and which I share with you.  These works are about the violence and destruction, yes.  More importantly, they are about our creative power to claim our wholeness, the frightening beauty of Truth and the gift that Truth gives us to live Whole and Authentically without fear.

Gratitude beyond words floods my heart for all the courageous, loving women who have come forward as the torchbearers of #MeToo.  Courage, like fear, is contagious.  Unlike fear, it is the contagion of wholeness, health and well-being.  From these incredible women I have caught “Courage” and once again offer my #MeToo “Fractured Figures” to the world.  This time I’m not retreating.

I bow to the loving, brilliant, beautiful people who have ushered me out of a family culture of denial and silencing and given me a new family of Truthfulness, empowerment, acceptance and abiding Love.  It is from this new culture, the greater culture at large and the culture of my current family and friends, that I am able to stand Whole, Free and Strong with the brave women who have paved the way.

#MeToo.

Enjoy the Truth.  The Freedom.  The Power.  The Joy.  The Love.  We are all bigger than we know.

Do the images resonate? 
What is your experience of them?  Do you feel the freedom,
the joy of creation behind the images of pain and distress?
Can you sense the largeness of that which creates?
Do you have a story you’d like to share?

Would love to hear from you.

#MeToo For Boys and Men

My # MeToo art is for boys and men too.  Sexual objectification and violation happens to men and boys, too.  For them, as the objects of sexual harm, they know the shattering, the blowing apart of identity, safety, trust.  Male body, female body, we experience similar, if not the same, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual wounding and trauma. 

For men and boys who have had the good fortune to be untouched by sexual violation and harm, this work is for you, as well.  We, who have experienced sexual harm, whose wounds affect our ability to trust, to be fully present as whole people in our most intimate lives, need you to stand with us shoulder to shoulder.  To give us the gift of your empathy, to give us the gift of your willingness to witness open-eyed, straight on and with love, the shadows and dark side of our inner lives.

In my #MeToo work, the male perpetrators are often fractured and broken.  They are broken humans, who, in their broken-ness, are incapable of seeing, feeling and relating to women and girls as full, autonomous beings.

For men, this work can bring them back to their wholeness through the power of empathy and understanding.  They become our true brothers, our allies.  Willing to hear the Truth, stand up against Lies, support and develop and nurture the wholeness within themselves that allows them to live a model of fully human  male sexuality that includes respect, kindness, compassion and the mutual pleasure that includes the integrity of  other beings.

And, above all, you get to enjoy and delight in the creativity, inventiveness, and love of beauty that is behind art creation no matter what the theme!

The Napa Library exhibit of my work is down.

The Napa Library exhibit of my work is down.  What took hours of planning and installation came down in less than 30 minutes!

I love having the video overview of the show as a whole and the separate fusion video of Dreams Like Silver Fish to extend the exhibit’s life. (Thank you Art & Clarity.)  Please take a few minutes to view the videos.  Touch base with a comment.  Would love to hear from you!

New today are videos of Tina Jolley and Danny Khuu talking about their experiences with my art as they went about their work in the library.  The intelligence, sensitivity and awareness they brought to viewing blew me away. I am so grateful for their articulate sharing.

Dreams Like Silver Fish

A 2 minute video photo montage of the painting Dreams Like Silver Fish with a voice over of me reading the poem I wrote that inspired the painting.

Where Have I Been?

Good question.  Where to begin?

In July of 2014 I completed the painting, The King Is Dead, a 36 x 36” oil on canvas that presaged the decline and ultimate death of my father in November, 2015. (You can view The King Is Dead by clicking on Karen’s World at the top of the web page, then on the Hungry Ghosts-Oni  tile.)

It also marked the beginning of a period of deep internal turmoil, self questioning and of loss.  Loss, not just of my father, but also of the identity forged through the turbulent relationship with Dad and the invisible assumptions and ties that kept me anchored in a worldview that had, up to that point, remained invisible.   Challenging stuff.

During that time I exhibited some of the Hungry Ghosts in an Asian American Women’s Art Association group show in San Francisco and had one of the Hungry Ghost images included in a Visual/Literary Tapestry published in conjunction with the Asian American Literary Review’s special issue on mental health challenges in Asian American communities. 

May of 2016 found me in deep creative doldrums.  The invitation to share my artistic, creative journey with the Lady M of my Lady M series through the Napa Library program Remarkable Journeys  pulled me up and out of the mire.  Structuring my talk and accompanying visuals about my artistic development around the concept of a journey with Lady M gave me a new point of view that allowed me to experience my artist’s life and creative output in a fresh way.

You can view the video of the talk, Remarkable Journeys:  Karen Nagano & Lady M, by clicking on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvaF0DjC7eY

Approaching my life and work from a different angle inspired a painting long in gestation:  A diptych titled Dreams Like Silver Fish which was inspired by a poem I wrote after a visit to Beppu, Japan.  It also inspired me to bring Lady M into the realm of Hungry Ghosts for the first time.  (Lady M & Hungry Ghosts, mixed mediums, 24 x 24”)

  Dreams Like Silver Fish

Dreams Like Silver Fish

 

BEPPU EVENING

Hair flowing thick and black,
cascades over husk filled pillows,
across tatami, edging towards
my futon like a hungry wave.

Outside, the geysers belch steam
into an already steamy night,
While in the glimmering river
ofhair, silver dreams, quick as fish,
dart upstream to their source:
The smooth arc of a Buddha’s cheek.

                                  Karen Nagano

 

  Lady M & Hungry Ghosts

Lady M & Hungry Ghosts

Both of these new works, among others, are currently on display at the Napa County Library, 580 Coombs Street, Napa through May 30, 2017.  All together, the exhibited work spans twenty years.

The Napa Library exhibit through the Art in the Library program makes me incredibly happy.  The work never looked better, old and new.  The vast space of the library allows the color, patterns and rhythms to sing.  I love seeing my art surrounding people of all ages, ethnicities, genders, sizes, styles.  It’s a complex world, and my art can hold it all.  It does not fade away.  It does not recede.

I’m grateful for that and so pleased.

I’m not really sure where I’ve been.  I do know that I’m back!  It feels good!

Going forward, I’m excited about creating a gallery store .  For those of you who want the aliveness and energy of more color, an Asian cultural connection, a paradigm of female empowerment, the liberation and zest that comes from facing Hungry Ghosts, the warmth and intimacy of human connection or the sheer beauty and uplift of creative expression, the store will have something for you.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, thank you for reading this post.  Thank you for your patience.  It’s an honor to have your presence.

Hungry Ghosts/Oni

Hungry Ghost/Oni  pieces continue to emerge.  There’s big energy behind these works even though the scale has remained small.   The four images below are new ones.  I’m excited by the unexpected visual inventiveness and playfulness.  I intended to confront my fears and explore the Shadow and Darkness.  Who knew so much humor and play lurked there along with the scary stuff? 

So.  Some good news.  Three of the pieces have been included in a juried exhibit, Hungry Ghosts, sponsored by the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco.  Would love to see you at the Opening Reception on April 2.  (Details in the Upcoming Events Column to the right.)   Seeing the work in person adds a depth and resonance to the viewing experience that is special and unique.  You would also have the opportunity to see the concept of Hungry Ghosts interpreted by other Asian American artists in different media.

AAWAA requested an Artist’s Statement to be used for wall text.  I’ve included it below.  It expands on what I’ve written for the introduction to the Hungry Ghost/Oni gallery in my website, and includes an element about some of the responses to the work which have been very meaningful to me.

 

ARTIST’S STATEMENT
KAREN NAGANO

In my Hungry Ghost/Oni series of mixed medium paintings, I extend an openness of heart, mind and hand to the repressed, neglected, cast-out aspects of myself which haunt the netherworld between wake and sleep. For many years, I reacted to the energies of this Shadow Self as enemies to my happiness and well-being.  As I began to extend compassion to myself and to all the energies within me, the netherworld that I had feared and resisted began to give form to itself.  Through the expression of these energies, I discovered that rather than undermine or destroy happiness and well-being, given freedom and the acceptance to exist, a surge of energy and life and creativity was released.  I felt whole and happy. 

In addition to the sense of wholeness and heightened sense of aliveness and creativity, the gifts of the Hungry Ghost/Oni work include the connection and community it brings.  Some people like them because they like them.  They respond to the humor and playfulness and bright color.  Others have said they feel healing after viewing my Hungry Ghosts.  They feel less alone.  They feel strengthened and more buoyant. They like the visual inventiveness and the ability to see something scary and yet also experience amusement and light-heartedness.  I’m very grateful for those responses.  The meaning and effect the work gives to others provides me a sense of completeness that is beyond words.

 Please enjoy these new images.  Would love to hear your thoughts and feelings. 

Contact me through my website, www.karennagano.com.  

And if you’d like to enliven and brighten the dark areas of your soul or just add more creativity and play to your environment, contact me through my website for purchase information,  www.karennagano.com.

As usual, I am working on more than one thing at a time.  Sketchbook, studies, Lady M, back burner/front burner.  Sensing an interaction among the different series.  Thankful for the time and space to work in this beautiful place.

Serpent & Starfish, 12.75 x 15.75”, Mixed mediums on paper and panel.

Bound & Chained, 12.75 x 15.25”, Mixed mediums on paper and panel.

Serpent & Wings, 11.75 x 17.75”, Mixed mediums on paper and panel.

Polka Dots, 13.75 x 14.75”, Mixed mediums on paper and panel.

Brian: A Eulogy

When I finished this painting recently, I felt a sense of buoyancy and peace.

 Brian: A Eulogy, oil on canvas, 42” x 66”

Brian: A Eulogy, oil on canvas, 42” x 66”

Those feelings told me: Time to let it go; it’s complete. You’ve done all you can.

Come to the reception of my show at BUMP WINE CELLARS TASTING ROOM & GALLERY to see it in the flesh and tell me in person, what you experience viewing this piece.

See details about the reception and exhibit in UPCOMING EVENTS.

I’ll be writing more about the creation of this piece and the process of self discovery required to complete it in a future blog. Stay tuned! You can sign up below to receive my blog. It’s a great way to keep in touch with the processes of the studio life.

My Sketchbooks

My sketchbooks.  I’ve kept sketchbooks for over twenty years.  In them, my heart, hand and eye fall on the outer world and my interior world without discrimination.

In my sketchbooks language meets image, my id finds free expression, my eye for beauty is given free rein.  My sketchbooks are inclusive, uncensored.  Without them, I’m a dry creekbed.  No water.  No juice.  No flow.

Here are a few sketchbook studies for the Hungry Ghost/Oni pieces.  Allowing words to flow—stream of consciousness—loosens the image-making.  There’s a back and forth.  Word-image.  Image-word.  Poems are often born here.

To give an idea of the scope of the sketchbooks, I’ve included a sketchbook drawing I did in the same time frame as the Hungry Ghost/Oni entries.  This drawing has a finished quality other sketchbook work often lacks.  

Seeing it brings back the moment of creation.  As I drew, the stunning beauty of the persimmons hanging from the tree in the side yard grabbed my hand, eye and heart to create the entry that reflects both the natural beauty of the persimmons on the tree and the deep resonance the fuyu persimmon has in Japanese culture.

My sketchbooks are the crucible in which my inner world and the outer world meet without conflict or judgment.  How do you house the many facets of your universe?