When asked how he would describe himself, Sansei artist Patrick Nagatani immediately responds that he considers himself to be, first and foremost, a storyteller.
Unlike the traditional photographer who is considered an objective recorder of reality, Nagatani carefully sets the stage for his photographs, collages, and multimedia pieces much like a movie director arranges a set and actors in order to capture the story being told. These elaborate and intensely colored landscapes or “photo-dramas” present situations that lead us, the viewers, to question the image before our eyes and invite us to carefully explore each of the artist’s imagined tales that are at times humorous, ironic, ominous, and enigmatic.
Created by the University of New Mexico’s University Art Museum, Desire for Magic: Patrick Nagatani is the first comprehensive look at the many and varied projects the artist has worked on since 1978, including works from the Japanese American Concentration Camps Portfolio, Nuclear Enchantment, Novellas, Chromatherapy, and the large masking tape works he calls Tape-estries. This exhibition is the first time his seminal projects have been brought together and is a unique opportunity to see the extensive range of Nagatani’s directorial approach.
Within each body of work he investigates a wide range of themes including politics, popular culture, the post-nuclear world, and our fragile, ever-changing environment. The series, however, that stands out as different is his Japanese American Concentration Camp (JACC) Portfolio, which, unlike his staged photographs, documents in “straight” photography the desolate landscapes of all ten camp sites. Like many Sansei children who were born after World War II and came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, Nagatani knew little about his family’s experiences during the war and that his father was incarcerated in Jerome, Arkansas, and his mother in Manzanar, California. JACC was a photographic pilgrimage for Nagatani, which not only allowed him to reclaim his past but also now allows viewers to reclaim theirs.
Despite having appeared in exhibitions around the world and with works in prestigous contemporary art collections across the United States, Nagatani feels that the Japanese American National Museum is a perfect venue for Desire for Magic. “This is the place that my parents will come to see my work. This is the place where it belongs.”
Lisa Sasaki is the Director of Program Development at the Japanese American National Museum.