Stephanie Inagaki: Metamorphosis

0 Comments 21 April 2014

stephanie inagaki art

Feature on artist Stephanie Inagaki and her debut solo show at the Century Guild in Culver City.

By Daniel Barron



Myths exists in order to contextualize and decode the world around us.  They are inherently answers to unspoken questions about basic human needs.  For Los Angeles artist Stephanie Inagaki these questions are often folded inward.  Utilizing symbols and motifs familiar from folklore, she inserts herself into her own surrealistic compositions to craft a kind of personal mythology.

She writes: “My body is the landscape where double self-examinations occur through portraiture and self-ruminations of the negative and positive aspects of hair and crows.  Referencing traditional Japanese culture and mythology allows me to synthesize transformative moments into visual vignettes of change, growth, empowerment, and the cyclical nature of living as a human being.”

Appropriately, this evolution of self has been memorialized by the title of her first solo show, “Metamorphosis,” which opens at the Century Guild in Culver City on Saturday, April 26th.  In the following interview Inagaki speaks about the importance of cultural identity, feeling secure in one’s body, and using art to transcend grief.


INAGAKI Nesting - Kitsune WEB


Was a strong cultural identity something that you were raised with?  What does it mean to you to be a Japanese woman?

 It was fairly mixed. My parents would have my brother and me partake in cultural festivals and we would take frequent trips to Japan when we were younger. However, as we grew up, it lessened since we got busier with school. I did learn how to play the koto, which is a Japanese thirteen-stringed instrument and I took Japanese language classes outside of high school. By the time high school came around I didn’t think as much about cultural identity as much as what social group I was a part of. I had always straddled the fence when it comes to identity. It was Japan inside my house but America on the outside. I was in all honors and AP courses but my high school friends were punks and goths. I was the only goth in student government and holding an administrative role. 

Culture is really important and it wouldn’t exist without the arts. I am grateful that I grew up bilingual because it gives you a different perspective on how to navigate this already crazy world. It is similar to navigating another form of knowledge like mathematics or physics, it makes you think about the world in a different way. As many adversities as I’ve had as a double “Other”, being Japanese-American and Female, I would not want to change that part of myself. I have never wished to be anyone else nor have had the need for role models. Experiencing hardships but maintaining a positive, forward-thinking attitude has been integral, especially in the field of work that I have chosen. I take pride in what good things my cultural background has to offer to the world. The beauty of modern times and globalization gives way to the rehashing of eras and exposure to cultures. This leads to a new interest in people and places different from us.


INAGAKI Nesting - Karasu WEB


Your subjects do not always seem secure in their bodies or in control of them, but obviously you have been very frank about exposing yourself through your art.  Do you feel secure in your own body?  What allows you to take that step?

 I definitely am very secure with my own body. I started dancing when I was in elementary school and became seriously committed to Middle-Eastern dancing when I was fifteen. I made sure I was able to take classes while attending college and grad school. Of course I had my insecurities as a teenager but that dissipated as I grew up. My brother, Bryan, passed away from a long struggle with leukemia when I was in high school and my late fiance, James Ribiat, suddenly passed away four and a half years ago. This transience of life has had an impact on my self-perception and any insecurities that I have held. So much of what we concern ourselves with doesn’t matter in the larger picture. I’ll notice if someone takes an unflattering photo of me, but I don’t care enough to have it taken down. We all have our ideals, but I don’t find it necessary to obsess over them. I have always had a deep set focus on what I want to achieve, but James was the first person who instilled the idea of self-love and faith in myself. He was simultaneously my biggest supporter and critic, and confirmed in me that I can be as great as I want to be. 


INAGAKI Nesting - Ningyo WEB


You are the subject of many of your own drawings.  What is the self-portrait process like for you?  Do you seek to represent yourself directly or are you trying to embody a character or theme?

Making self-portraits is a way for me to visually synthesize what I have experienced, whether it is related to issues of gender, race, or something more personal as the aforementioned losses. The representation varies. I have drawn a few pieces referencing major art historical paintings. The most recent work for my solo show does embody more of a theme by using mythological characters to tell stories of transformative moments.


INAGAKI Nesting - Nokomata WEB


You incorporate a lot of mythological imagery.  What works of literature and film have connected with you the most growing up?

 I grew up watching a lot of horror, science fiction, and action films. My parents luckily didn’t filter what we watched. My brother played D&D and Vampire: The Masquerade so I would look through the drawings in the books but never played. He also collected comic books and I gravitated more towards stories like The Sandman, The Maxx, and Spawn as opposed to the typical super heroes of the Marvel and DC worlds. Concerning my current body of work and anthropomorphism/zoomorphism, Watership Down as a novel and movie has had a lasting impact on me. I also read half of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques when I was growing up. As a child I saw most of Miyazaki’s films on laser discs when I would visit my grandmother in Japan. My Neighbor Totoro is one of my all-time favorites. The Princess Bride, The Neverending Story, The Nightmare Before Christmas… the list goes on.


INAGAKI Love & Loyalty WEB


What are some common reactions to your work?  How do you feel about that?

My earlier drawings were easily dismissed as photographs or my peers in grad school just thought they were well-drawn and were unwilling to see beyond a nude body that is Asian and Female. There is usually some stylized aspect in the drawings so to me, they have never been photorealistic. As for the latter, in grad school I was able to explain what my thought process and intent was. Outside of school, I find that not many people challenge my work. 

Once you put your work out into the world, everyone’s reactions are different based on what they have experienced and how those experiences are associated with visual cues. I always make an effort to have conceptual intent but if it’s not always legible, then I am fine with that.  

Cindy Sherman has made a career of predominantly portraying herself, so it is no different for me. Even the sculptures I have made have been a type of self portraiture. Certain projects this year will be having me make work other than self-portraits, but I don’t see myself stopping it any time soon.


stephanie inagaki art


Is there a thematic or stylistic spine that connects your work for your new solo show?

My new solo show is loosely inspired by the yōkai– monsters and supernatural beings of Japanese mythology and folklore, amalgamated with my own interpretations and personal storytelling. Much of mythology and folklore are told with a moral in mind, filtered through an anthropomorphic character. I am using a similar convention to create a different type of narrative than I normally have with my previous drawings by combining that with the use of watercolor and collage.


stephanie inagaki art



stephanie inagaki art


stephanie inagaki art


stephanie inagaki art


stephanie inagaki art


stephanie inagaki art

stephanie inagaki art


stephanie inagaki art

stephanie inagaki art



INAGAKI The Dreaming WEB


INAGAKI Towards the Within WEB


INAGAKI The Crossroads WEB


INAGAKI Dream Guardian, Guarding Dreams WEB


View more Stephanie Inagaki artwork on her website.

Purchase some of her accessories here.

Follow Stephanie Inagaki: Twitter, Instagram

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- who has written 424 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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