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Meet Dane Nakama in Santa Clarita

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dane Nakama.

Dane, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Well, I was born and raised in Pearl City on the island of Oahu, Hawaii – where grew up with my mom, dad, sister, grandma, and dog (Oreo).

When I was five, I began to make my own toys/sculptures out of paper towels, scotch tape, and Sharpie markers. I guess you could consider them to be my first works of art.

From the seventh grade, I attended a college preparatory school where I mainly focused on student government, academics, and spoken word poetry. All the while, I continued to create artwork and study art history on my own through Youtube documentaries. I never really took actual art classes besides some summer courses. My parents told me that it’d be a waste of time and money to take a class for what I’d already do in my free time.

I always wanted to be a part of an art community though. While other students were winning awards and getting recognized for their work, I wasn’t even allowed to apply. But blessings and curses, because I started developing my own lessons and made what I wanted instead of following assignments.

My independent study of art sparked some sort of rebellious nature in me that would often question how art was being taught at my school. This didn’t make me very popular with the art teachers – leaving me with no one to ask a letter of recommendation from when applying to art majors.

I ended up being accepted to Chapman University as an art history major, knowing that I wanted to switch to the fine arts program. As soon as I got the chance to take an art class, I told my professor that I wanted to switch my major. She kept an eye on my work ethic during the class, and when she felt that it was right, she wrote me the letter that got me into the art major.

It was at university that I finally felt validated. Studying and creating art on my own was great, but even so, the whole time I never knew if it would amount to anything. Up until that point, it felt like I was being kept from doing what I was meant to do.

Soon, other professors took notice of my drive and passion for my art. With my future in mind, they encouraged me to apply to the California Institute of the Arts, where I am currently pursuing my Bachelor in Fine Arts.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
If the road to chasing one’s passion was easy, you couldn’t call it a passion. What I mean is that to truly be passionate about anything, you have to be willing to bear with its challenges. Apart from having to battle the discouragement of others a big part of my own obstacles were due to a lack of self-confidence.

Growing up, and still today, I struggled with mental health issues like clinical depression and anxiety disorders, but art was always there for me. This may sound cliché, but it’s true. I would always devalue myself. I was never the smartest, most athletic, or the best looking. Art doesn’t make me feel like I’m the best at anything still, but it does allow me to cultivate a better self.

I talk about art like it’s an imaginary friend, which now-that-I-think-about-it is why I probably put two dot for eyes or include characters on all my work. In a way, art was an imaginary friend that would be there to get me through hard times: every failure, discouraging remark, loss of a loved one, bad break up, and bout of self-doubt.

The road wasn’t easy — but if it wasn’t for a difficult path, my drive and vigor for what I do would not be as strong as it is. I anticipate many more steep hills in my future, but I’m excited because steeper hills mean higher peaks.

What do you strive to achieve through your work?
Growing up, my family was not very invested in the arts, and the most frustrating aspect of having a passion or dream is not being able to share it with others. Too often, I would try to explain an artwork’s concept or meaning to my loved ones, and the response was that it was either too complicated or “just not for them.” I couldn’t share this thing that I loved so much with those I wanted most. So, I made it a point within my own art practice to emphasize accessibility as a means of bridging people together through art.

Most recently, my work has investigated subjects of uncertainty and unknowingness to embrace the ambiguity or hybridity of the future. Being a Japanese Okinawan American from Hawaii, I have always seen one of the greatest aspects of my identity to be its mixed narrative. Through topics ranging from philosophy to cuteness, I hope my work allows for discussion about art analysis across all viewers’.

One experience in particular resonates as to why I do what I do.

I have a great aunt who is now 100 years old, and she has been a long time supporter of what I do. However, almost every time I try to explain my work to her, it often concludes with her responding, “Mmmm, I don’t quite get it, but it’s pretty.”

Recently, I began to use a motif of two dots for “eyes” in my work. I began putting them on everything, and one day, I chose to share one of these pieces with my great aunt. I asked, “Aunty, what do you see?” She squinted and said, “They’re eyes, of course.”

“Right! But they’re just two dots… isn’t that weird?”

“Ya… that is weird.”

“And it always only takes two dots to bring one thing to life, kind of like a conversation.”

This dialogue took off as we talked about what it meant to have a discussion between two people, to have a relationship, to exist. Then my aunty added, “It’s kind of like how your uncle and I would get into arguments, but it was only because we were in the same room. We both had to be there for it to happen.” I was elated and exclaimed, “That’s it! That’s what I’m trying to get at. Existence through relationships.” She leaned back in her rocking chair and said nodding in approval, “That’s very beautiful.”

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