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Last modified: Monday, April 13, 2009

IU Fine Arts professor confirmed as Guggenheim Fellow

Osamu James Nakagawa honored for contributions in area of photography

April 13, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Associate Professor Osamu James Nakagawa was confirmed as a Guggenheim Fellow last week.

Fellows were announced Tuesday, April 7. This marks the 85th year for the annual competition, established to honor "stellar achievement and exceptional promise for continued accomplishment" to add to the "educational, literary, artistic and scientific power of this country, and also to provide for the cause of better international understanding," according to the organization's mission statement.

James Nakagawa

Osamu James Nakagawa

Since its inception, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded more than $273 million in fellowships to nearly 16,700 individuals. Previous fellows include Ansel Adams, W. H. Auden, Aaron Copland, Martha Graham, Langston Hughes, Henry Kissinger, Vladimir Nabokov, Isamu Noguchi, Linus Pauling, Philip Roth, Paul Samuelson, Wendy Wasserstein, Derek Walcott, James Watson and Eudora Welty.

When Nakagawa received the letter informing him of the honor, he initially assumed it was a rejection letter. "I couldn't believe it. I kept saying 'I got a Guggenheim!'" said the associate professor of photography in IU's School of Fine Arts.

The fellowship will support Nakagawa's work on images of Banta (cliffs) and Gama (caves) from the Okinawa, Japan, "suicide cliff" from which thousands plunged to their deaths at the end of World War II.

Nakagawa said the fellowship, along with a grant from IU, will support him to delve deeper, re-entering the cave near the cliff and taking photos by flashlight that he will later study and reconstruct using digital manipulation.

Chibu gama

Photo by James Nakagawa

"Chibu gama"

"This will allow me not to rush my project and to expand the project," Nakagawa said. He will spend most of the summer in Okinawa, presenting a large-scale, solo exhibition of his "Banta and Gama" series at the Sakima Art Museum from June 17 to July 20 with return visits planned for next year. The exhibition will be accompanied by a Japanese and English bilingual catalog with scholarly essays by Anne W. Tucker (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), Mariko Takeuchi (Waseda University, Paris Photo '08 curator), Yoshiharu Higa (Okinawan artist) and Michio Sakima (Sakima Art Museum director).

"Professor Nakagawa's large-scale, 20"x 60," digitally constructed photographs are magnificent in concept and realization," said Tim Mather, director of IU's Hope School of Art. "The size, clarity and extreme vertical format of these photographs is emotionally moving and visually awe-inspiring."

Mather said two pieces from Nakagawa's Okinawa series have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In addition, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City each acquired a print for their permanent collection as well.

"James is a rising star in the photography world, as evidenced by the Guggenheim Fellowship and the recent acquisition of his work by the Metropolitan Museum of Art," said Jeffrey Wolin, Ruth N. Halls Professor of Photography, School of Fine Arts in IU's College of Arts and Sciences.

"His photographs address important and timeless human themes of life and death, love and loss. James will continue to make hyper-real landscapes of World War II battle sites in Okinawa, photographing caves where compelled suicides took place at the end of the war, turning his camera on remains of the dead," said Wolin. "The senselessness of war is revealed in these photographs as strongly as the beauty of the underground landscapes, providing a stark contrast."

The Guggenheim Foundation this year has awarded 180 fellowships to artists, scientists and scholars selected from an initial pool of nearly 3,000 applicants.

The ages of this year's fellows range from 29 to 70 and their residences span the world, from Hawaii to New York City and from Toronto to Glasgow. Their projects will carry them to every continent. In all, 62 disciplines and 68 different academic institutions are represented by this year's fellows.

The full list of 2009 Fellows may be viewed at