Artist Kahori Kamiya Reflects on the Artistic Side of Bodily Transformation

Interview by Douglas Turner

Contemporary interdisciplinary artist Kahori Kamiya is a New York-based artist whose work spans ideas of the body: its possibilities, limitations, identities, taboos and malleability. As part of this conversation with the artist, a top prize winner of the “Alchemy” open call curated by Writer, Independent Curator and Wedge Studio Owner/Founder Douglas Turner, Kamiya shares more with Turner about aspects of her work that have changed over time, including her current body of work, its concepts and evolution, and a view ahead into what she has in store in 2021 moving forward. Her work can be found on her website: https://www.kahorikamiya.com/

ANTE mag. Thanks for speaking with us, Kahori! So, you’ve mentioned breast-feeding as one important point – referring to its context as an influence on your current body of work, could you please tell us more about this as a departure point in examining this new work?

Kahori Kamiya. My current sculptures and hanging-works are focused on my breastfeeding time. My breastfeeding was an extreme experience: a dual experience between pain and pleasure. For women who don’t naturally produce milk, breastfeeding is an every-two-hours sleepless act of labor, work that is run in a solitary environment.

By stitching thick foam with a long needle, I am re-experiencing my physical suffering during my several mastitis infections, doing so in order to make a abstracted breasts.  Because of its function, shape, and sensation, I felt (breasts to be a separate objects,) another troublesome creature on top of my chest, and I was even calling my breasts as different names of mine. Coincidently, in Japan, ancient people often nicknamed mountains as “breasts”. This comes from the mountain’s shapes and (Japan’s) Animism ideas, and also (as) worship for Mother Nature.

For my ongoing sculpture, I am making a geographic sense of the breast and adding a narrative feature: letting a little toy baby sleep in a cave in front of a snake. The snake has a dual meaning of being poison and medicine.

“Welcome Back” Kahori Kamiya, (2021)
130″ x 110″ x 100″
fabric, wire, thread, chair, foam, paint, fur, wool (image courtesy the artist)

ANTE mag. What does the artist have to offer? Way-finding, escapism, mythical creation, distraction, contemplation, or exploration? 

Kamiya. I tend to offer in my works the opportunity for viewers to experience a mix of contemplation and exploration. For example, my new large sculpture titled Welcome Back (130” x 110” x 100”) is an interactive piece that visitors can sit and listen inside the ruffle sculpture. I am still working on the sound part and my goal of this piece is to connect with the viewers preconscious memories of being secure and cared for. 

For the ruffle cave, I sew a unique synthetic fabric called Tulle to make a ruffle to present a breast milk shower. The lightness and see-thoroughness of this fabric evokes in me a feeling of non-substantial existence, such as I felt as if I was forgotten by society when I was on maternity leave. The shiny sculpture part on top of the chair, I paid homage to the Belvedere Torso. Belvedere Torso is an ancient Roman marble statue that presents masculine male nude. Since all mammals can breastfeed without taking a lactation class or watching YouTube videos, I optimistically thought I could magically do it with my “mother instinct” once I held my baby… however, I was all wrong. Humans seems don’t remember how to breastfeed anymore. As a result, my struggle and awkward breastfeeding posture always evokes for me the Belvedere Torso. You may feel strange that I recalled the macho nude statue as my post-natal body, but the reality of breastfeeding is more like cross-gender intense labor.

I also knit multitudes of nipple-ish mandala circles to attach to the ruffle parts. This idea refers to a Mandala design and meaning of co-healing. One unforgettable memory is that my husband started seeing the dream during his sleep that he also breastfed our baby. It was funny, but he wanted to help me, who was suffering to produce one drop of milk. I also wished that I could have more nipples (so that) then I could possibly get more help.

“Football-hold” (2021) -gallery installation image
73″ h x 44″ w x 46 d
plaster, foam, oil, fabric, wool, wood, photo document, toy (image courtesy the artist)

ANTE mag. What are you currently working on, and what can you share that is upcoming for you?

Kamiya. By using a hybrid technique, such as modeling, collaging, painting, sewing, knitting and embroidering into my sculpture, I am interested in transforming Mother Nature and my own reality of motherhood into my work. For example, I like to paint the motherhood gesture/left-over, such as blemish, spilling, scribble, stamp, and stretch marks onto the surface of sculpture. Also, the scribble-like-signs are reminiscent of numbers that I tracked in terms of the amount of breast milk and baby weight every day. At that time, those numbers were very emotional to me.

With continuous wiping and scrubbing motions with my paints, I try to catch a moment of being beautiful. Like how Robert Rauschenberg talked about his process of making art and his materials, he mentioned “Artists are almost a bystander while (they’re) working…”. Being a good bystander is a captivating part of my art practice. I am challenging myself to seek the combination of painting, sculpture, and possible architecture features with a motherhood theme. For a long time, having children was taboo in our contemporary art world. It’s a challenging topic for me to reveal the reality of motherhood, but I am more excited to share my ideas with viewers and develop my works.

My work is currently on view at Woodstock Artists Association & Museum and will show at Lacuna International Contemporary Art Festival in Spain from July – August. Also, some gallery exhibitions in NY will be up this year. Please follow my Instagram, @kahorikamiya to check out my updates!

AIPAD Features Groundbreaking Work by Arlene Rush in Photography Collection of Joe Baio

Forever Young: Selections from the Joe Baio Collection of Photography steals the show at the 2018 iteration of the AIPAD photography show, the renowned annual photography event in New York City housed at Pier 94 in Manhattan and on view April 5-8. Photographic objects from the collection are suspended, salon-style, with a specific view toward the poignant moments of adolescence and childhood memories.

Among these works, on view from the collection for the first time ever, an artwork by artist Arlene Rush emerges from the cusp of the center and left-facing walls, shimmering as visitors approach. This effect, caused by shattered tempered glass carefully arranged over the surface of the photograph, beckons guests closer to examine a seemingly straightforward portrait of two young women holding hands. These teenage girls, blond and smiling, seem charming yet unsettling… until the viewer realizes they are, in fact, identical twins. Rush was born as a twin to her brother, whose bar mitzvah photo this image was derived from. The two figures stand intrinsically linked in this work, Twins: Just a Memory: the scattered glass creating a mirage of imagined histories. This piece is the first from an identically titled series of work the artist produced reflecting on adolescence and sexual identity.

Arlene Rush. Twins: Just a Memory (2001-05)Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

Rush’s Twins: Just a Memory series revisits childhood moments in which the artist mines her personal history and growth as a woman and artist to comment on gender roles and societal norms. The artist has taken the image of her and her brother at his bar mitzvah, re-imagining instead what it would be like for her to experience adulthood from the viewpoint of both male and female. She reflects on the use of the family portrait as entry point into this conceptual rigor. “Kitschy and poignant, [the work] speaks about gender equality and expectations [which] religions and society [place] on us growing up.” These expectations find space to dissolve in these atmospheric works, in which identity is present upon close encounter yet obscured from far away. Rush finds solace in examining the elements of surprise and nuance offered by the veil of shattered glass applied atop the portrait. The forms are identifiable, the dress code clear, yet the results manage to be both surprising and surreal.

Twins Just a Memory: The Missing Piece (2012) Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

Questioning the relevance of coded gender norms today versus the artist’s experience growing up in New York City, Rush has worked as a conceptual artist questioning identity in multiple disciplines. The artist has worked across photography, installation work and sculpture, including welding with steel  – a discipline prominently anchored by male artists in the 1970s and 80s when the artist was beginning to work. Starting to blossom in her practice in an era not far removed from the echoes of the male artist-dominated Cedar Tavern, perhaps the artist’s poignant re-examinations of gender expectations – both in her own life and in society as a whole – stand as a testament to the hopes we hold for women to assume prominent positions both in the arts and in the brave new world ahead.

Twins Just a Memory IX (2013) Digital print face-mounted to plexi and shattered tempered glass

AIPAD is on view from April 5-8 in midtown west, Manhattan, at Pier 94. More information on admission can be found on the show’s website.

The Ambivalent Promise of Tomorrow: Delano Dunn in Conversation at Long Gallery

With his measured words and assured demeanor, Delano Dunn’s calm presence stands in contrast with his fiercely vibrant artworks currently on display at Long Gallery. No One Can Be This Tomorrow, Dunn’s current exhibit with the gallery, displays the hope of empowerment embodied by Dunn’s portraits of black women, men, and family depicted upon layers of technicolor mixed media. Recently the artist took time to walk through his exhibit and discuss this series along with influences that have shaped Dunn’s artistic practice.

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Sunday Shoes (2016) Delano Dunn. Mixed Media and Resin on Board. 

ANTE. Thanks Delano for meeting to discuss your work today. Can you start by giving us an overview on how your career as an artist has developed until now?

Delano Dunn. I’m originally from South Central LA, and lived there through the (Rodney King) riots in the early ‘90s. I came to Pratt in Brooklyn in 1997, studying to become an illustrator. Originally I was influenced by comic books (I started making comic book art when I was young) and went to Pratt with this in mind as a career. Freshman year at Pratt I switched focus to illustration, looking to make a career in editorial illustrations. I began to focus primarily on making art on a regular basis in 2007, working on new works in between other responsibilities. I recently completed my MFA from the School of Visual Arts*, making the switch to becoming a full-time artist. (*Dunn is modest: he completed his MFA with the honor of receiving two awards from SVA, the Edward Zutrau Memorial Award and the Alumni Society Thesis Award. – AP)

ANTE. So attending SVA was a point of entry into the art world full-time?

DD. Actually, I was working at the Whitney Museum of American Art prior to SVA. Working with the museum and becoming familiar with the various materials used throughout the building influenced my practice. That, and seeing my grandfather work.

ANTE.  What did he do?

DD. He’s a jackof-all trades. He always had old tools and equipment lying around, so I got to play with spare parts and electronics.

ANTE. Definitely sounds like a source of inspiration – I had a similar experience with my family having a shop of old equipment, where my folks would weld.

DD. It just opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

ANTE. Can you walk through this series and your recent body of work, In Our Time? What has shifted as you moved into working on No One Can Be This Tomorrow?

DD. Sure – for this series, I started focusing on research at New York Public Libraries, particularly the Schomburg Center, last Summer with production beginning in the Fall. The images included in this series span from drawings from the abolition period on to photographs from the 20th century, including portraits and caricatures. A large focus for this series was making women and girls visible in the work. This is probably a reaction to having a daughter now; that, and I feel I’ve focused substantially on the black male experience in previous work. In the work (need name of superhero work/Genesis) the androgynous figure is a female Tron, subverting expectations placed on the superhero genre.

ANTE. Your works seem to have shifted from the previous series that emphasize autobiographical elements, such as Everyone Digs Delano Dunn, to research-based methods. Was this a conscious shift as a result of your MFA studies, perhaps?

DD. There is some overlap (of these two themes) through my work over time, and in many ways, my older work is in dialogue with autobiographical themes, like growing up in LA and not being black enough, liquor store ads in the community, etc. There has always been research in my work, however; this is something I was already doing when I started pursuing my MFA. These studies allowed me to further broaden this part of my practice, making me willing to go headfirst into the research with renewed vigor.

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We Ain’t Even Been To The Ocean (2017) Delano Dunn. Mixed Media and Resin on Board.

ANTE. Speaking of influences from your earlier years, you mentioned comic book art. Do you have any notable influences from this genre along with contemporary artists that have informed your practice?

DD. I definitely draw from both worlds. On the comic book side two icons are Greg Capulo, the artist for the Spawn and Batman comics, was an early influence along with Rick Leonardi of Spiderman 2099. Contemporary artists – there are so many it’s hard to name them all… Mickalene Thomas, Theaster Gates, Glenn Ligon, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Diebenkorn, to name a few. Also writers are a major influence on my practice, especially Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.

ANTE. Writers, interesting! That speaks to the profound sense of humanism emanating from your work.

DD. Thanks, as much as I enjoy abstract work I feel compelled to be able to relate to the work itself, and feel compassion. This arises in the form of human interaction. Writing has a lot to do with that…I really do want to communicate that to people. Some of that illustration practice still lingers, I guess.

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Jubilee! (2016) Delano Dunn. Mixed Media and Resin on Board.

ANTE. The content of your works makes an impact, and the textures and tones of the materials are equally fascinating. Can you talk about the source of your materials for this series of work, how you select them and their significance?

DD. There’s a real layering of histories and eras inherent to these works. For the wallpaper included in these pieces, this is sourced from a church that historically welcomed refugees in Grand Rapids, MI. This material thus has a loaded history that responds directly to the election. The colors included in many of these works span the rainbow, which is intentional: when you examine a rainbow, it’s meant to stand for acceptance, for hope and diversity, and yet the rainbow itself is an optical illusion. You can’t touch a rainbow. This election, so much positivity, hope for a diverse presidential legacy – potentially going from the first black president in the white house to
the first female president – was stifled. I see this as a real blow to women. We now have an oppressor who’s wiping out the identities and importance of female figureheads, and by depicting these women throughout this series of works I’m hoping to reclaim these identities in a sense.

ANTE. This idea of legacy is interesting to me – do you feel like through history, things haven’t really changed or progressed as much as we believe they have?

DD. I think things haven’t changed, but they have been re-branded, from emancipation through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Era…it’s always seemed like things have changed, but they really haven’t. There’s not any less of a problem, just different problems. It’s sad in a way; there’s a feeling that in this time period when we could’ve had real advancement we really haven’t. It’s ridiculously that there hasn’t been a female president. When you look at the space program the USSR helmed they included women and black astronauts before the US did – we don’t live in a post-black or post-gender era, not in the slightest. -ANTE. 
Delano Dunn will be in conversation with Khalil Gibran Muhammad at Long Gallery from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm on Monday, March 27th produced by Sanaa Contemporary. To attend, please RSVP to: rsvp@sanaa-contemporary.com