Trigger Warning: Discussions of trauma, rape, and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Through March 12, 2023, Frankie G. Weems Gallery at Meredith College is featuring the work of Megumi Naganoma in an exhibition titled “In-Rage.” Naganoma’s interdisciplinary work aims to bring awareness to sexual violence and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a survivor with PTSD, Naganoma uses art to guide her healing process.
“Enrage means extreme anger. But going with a play on words of being in a rage, I’m in anger. The anger hasn’t stopped. I’m not just in a state of anger. I’m actively in it,” she said.
What began as a survival tactic for Naganoma became a method of raising awareness about sexual assault and PTSD. She uses her art to advocate for rape survivors while also creating a dialogue around topics that are still seen as taboo.
“I think a lot of times people think of survivors and victims as vulnerable or broken down. And there are parts of it that are true, but there’s so much more, and people forget that there’s an anger there. And then, in my case, I’m angry, but I’m trying to make something of that anger and use it in a healthy manner,” said Naganoma.
Some of the work on display is a group of cones, ranging from 5’3” to 6’2”, made from various textiles, paper, synthetic cotton, wood, steel, and miscellaneous objects. These cones are just a few from a collection titled Listen to Them. Each cone is uniquely made and represents a different survivor that Naganoma knows personally, who chose to share their stories with her. The height of the cones is also determined by the height each survivor was at during their attack, and hidden books are sewn into the cones with their words.
“I want to show that each person’s story is different. I wanted to give a glimpse that there isn’t one way that a survivor exists or how their story happened. It felt important to bring up the idea of diversity. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of stereotypes about what kind of person gets attacked or is an attacker. So I want that to be something that’s noticed,” she said.
Another piece on display is titled Flowers Are For Picking, made from various textiles, acrylic paint, synthetic cotton, and wood. The large kimono is simple on the front, while the back depicts scenes of heinous sexual violence. Naganoma chose to keep the front simple and the back busy to serve as a reminder that not all is as it seems.
Flowers Are For Picking was also Naganoma’s first large-scale work and kicked off the rest of “In-Rage.”
“That was me calling out big names in the media. And that piece happened at a particular point in history where I already started doing some research,” she said. “That’s also my most graphic piece, which is when I started really pushing for warning labels, and that set up my practice of ‘If there’s a shock factor, you’re not going to be blindsided.’ Like you, the audience member gets to make the decision.”
There is also a collection of doodle books, which are sketchbooks consisting of drawings Naganoma used as a distraction and ways to release her thoughts and emotions while she navigates her PTSD. She originally never planned on sharing the books. They were how she released her anxiety so she could focus on her classes in graduate school.
“I remember meeting someone, and they told me their story, and it was a huge deal to me because I felt seen and heard for the first time. I didn’t feel alone. And I needed that. I was like, ‘Well, what if this helps with feeling less alone? Or helps people understand PTSD?’ So, for me, it’s a healing process to keep working on these and letting people see how my mind works with it,” she said.
Other works on display include fabric, drawings, and videos.
Naganoma has enjoyed working with Meredith College and meeting with students about her work. She said there is an understanding that this is a topic that needs more conversation, and she has valued the students’ engagement.
“As an advocate for this topic and as a survivor, I appreciate them taking the time to learn something new. And if somebody that’s been to the exhibition is a survivor as well, then I appreciate them taking the time to see this work. I know it can be a lot, but I want them to know they’re not alone because they’re not. And sometimes we need that reminder, so I hope that my show, if anything, did that for them,” said Naganoma.
The community sponsor for “In-Rage” is InterAct, the only provider of domestic violence and sexual assault services in Wake County. InterAct materials are provided at the exhibition for those wishing to connect with their supportive services.