Inside her studio, Naomi Nakazato moves quickly, pointing to each painting, transitioning from one thought to the other without finishing a sentence. With her trademark red hair swirling, she turns like a kaleidoscope, refocusing our attention on painting after painting of women, women like herself who are both Japanese and not, depicting a struggle with identity she knows well. Her parents, a white American mother and a Japanese father, spent only a few months in Japan when Naomi was a toddler, by which time children were already calling her a gaijin, a derogatory word meaning foreigner. “In Japan,” she says, “you’re either full Japanese, or you’re not at all, so you’re always trying to figure out what you are.” When her parents divorced, her father returned to Japan, while she, her mother, and her stepfather remained in D.C. Since then, she has visited her father and learned some Japanese, but she has also come to understand that language barriers are not the only barriers; there are cultural barriers in Japan too. However, amid the struggles and the ever-racing thoughts in her mind, she speaks in a calm, deep voice that says, “I’ve actually got everything under control.” It’s easy to understand how Naomi finds so much success as an artist.
Naomi’s fascination with art began when she was a child. The art of illustration, of putting pencil to paper or brush to canvas, mystified and engaged her early. At three years old, she constructed a fashion booklet filled with portraits and drawings that stemmed from a fascination with human subjects. At the age of four, living in D.C. with her mother, Naomi visited the Smithsonian and marveled at the Van Gogh exhibit. She took pages from the exhibit, snippets of Van Gogh’s work, and pasted them into a sketchbook so that she could recreate his works with small masterpieces of her own.
In nearly all of her work, Naomi chooses to depict people. When asked why, she said, “I’ve heard that portraiture allows artists to interact with subjects, even if the subject is not present when the work is created. I like to translate that into having the viewer interact with the subject on a deep, intimate level. In a way, my depiction of these people is an attempt to have communication between this one particular person, this subject, and the audience.” In the paintings she shows us, Naomi reworks images from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a French neoclassical painter who painted nudes, women, from a male perspective to expose the objectification and degradation of oriental women. In her own work, half-Japanese women are clothed as the aristocracy—elevated, individualized, and empowered. “In my paintings,” she says, “I’m trying to create this space where these people can exist and thrive and be who they are.”
Naomi finds inspiration in a lot of different ideas, emotions, and subjects, but what she says inspires her most is the pain of loss, the struggle with identity, and the idea of community in humans all over the world. On the subject of loss and identity, Naomi calls upon her own experiences: “I think, in some way, in the instance of my own dad leaving and my sort of loss of identity, I understand that suffering.” But she also believes that painting has helped her to regain her own identity: “Instead of being half Japanese, or Japanese, or American, I consider myself an artist. And I think that’s more exciting and full of potential than looking at your identity through how other people would define you.”
For Naomi Nakazato, art is not just a choice, but something that allows her to be herself, something that wakes her up in the middle of the night, kicking and screaming inside her head. Art transcends the boundaries of race and culture, exemplifying and addressing life in a new and often needed view. Through art, Naomi no longer feels the weight of racial identification because she is simply an artist—someone who looks at the world deeply with patience and tries to craft an image that does what all great art and literature are supposed to do: make you think.
Growing up in a small, single gas-station town like Six Mile, South Carolina forced Joshua Tankersley to create his own worlds. “It really sparked my imagination,” he says. Grinning, he sits down at a table overlooking Cater’s Lake (known as “The Duck Pond” to most Anderson students). “My favorite toys were actions figures, or pretty much anything I could manipulate into a story. I would pit my G.I. Joes against my Transformers, and when the Zoids came in they didn’t know which side to be on. They were like, ‘We’re piloted by humans, but look like the robots!’ They had a crisis of faith moment.”
Despite this predisposition to creativity, Josh didn’t get into writing until his first semester of college, when he took a course in nature writing and discovered a knack for the art. “I write mainly to entertain people,” Josh says, raising his voice over the orchestra of ducks paddling across the water. “I want to make people happy. That’s why I wanted to be a chef before, and that’s why I want to be a writer now.”
Returning to his habit of creating worlds, Josh has written two novels, both of which are still in the editing process. He’s currently looking for agents and publishers while studying at Anderson, where he is challenged to improve his writing skills. “Everyone is very supportive,” Josh says, nodding for emphasis. He mentions classmates and teachers who have pushed him to become a better writer. In particular, he talks about his family and wife, Shannon, who always encourage him to write and meet deadlines.
Josh also writes poetry, poetry that “rarely has anything to do with me,” he says, his expression serious. “I don’t want people to think about me, I want them to think of themselves. My poem, ‘This Train is Bound for Some Final Stop,’ is a really good example of that. I’ve talked to people with religious doubts, but I don’t have those same thoughts.” Josh has explored his own experiences, however, in several nonfiction pieces. For instance, “Head in the Clouds, Head in the Oven,” he says, “started off being about the fear of rejection in publication, but slowly evolved into being about the relationship between creativity and mental illness. It’s scary, realizing how easily that comes up as a writer. I wanted to face that fear. Writing is a good way to deal with all those feelings.” To Josh, writing is a method of catharsis, a way to purge the negative emotions and celebrate the good ones. If the irony of writing to purge himself of the fear of authors’ inclination to insanity occurs to him, he doesn’t mention it.
“Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand and “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost are Josh’s favorite poems, the latter of which he can recite by heart. He proved it, standing to pace across the brown winter grass and kick aside a few pine cones, speaking in a deliberate, rhythmic cadence.
When it comes to fiction, Josh emphasizes the influence of James Dashner, the author of The Maze Runner. Dashner’s books, Josh says, are what got him into reading, and when Josh first started writing, he found himself emulating Dashner, writing to the same young adult audience and imitating the way he builds suspense. Other inspirations include Star Wars (except for The Phantom Menace), Lord of the Rings, Fight Club, Shaun of the Dead, Good Morning Vietnam, 28 Days Later, and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. “My favorite image, though,” Josh says, “Is the view from Crowder’s Mountain in North Carolina. Most of the hike up is gradual, but near the end, there are like a thousand steps leading up, and that’s not an exaggeration. But once you’re up there… you can see everything. You can watch the falcons fly in the thermals, see the horizon fade into a blue green. You can see the bend of the earth.” That’s something to write about.