A conversation with Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama

A conversation with Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama is an Shimanchu-Japanese artist based on O’ahu, Hawai’i.  They are known for their iconic pieces of pottery. Dane’s art occupies a unique stylistic intersection between kawaii themes and art history through the perspective of their own identity as an Asian person raised in Hawai’i. 

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Cut Fruit Collective: How would you describe your art style? 

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: Oooh… How would I describe my art style? I’ve written so many statements and I still don’t even know how to describe it. I think it’s… Above everything I try to just be honest or earnest. The style is not so… It's not too serious when it doesn't have to be, it's not too cute when it doesn't have to be. It's unsure a lot of the time. It's always a lot of open ended questions or uncertainty. That speaks to my experience in the moment. I think that’s the main goal.

Whenever I look at my art, I've never been ashamed of any of my earlier works because every work I’m like “that’s true to how I felt then.” 

Whimsical uncertainty, honest uncertainty. 

Cut Fruit Collective: What are some of your inspirations? 

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: A lot of my work is research based, so I usually like to say that I do a lot of front research, and then those are the lego blocks that I store in my brain. I will pull out those blocks later on and fidget with the facts. I will be like “I remember this or I remember this picture, I remember this.”
Inspiration wise I always return back to work of artists like Yoshitomo Nara, Otani Workshop, which is bad cuz if you look those artists up they look a lot like works that I’ve made in the past. 

But just more austere cuteness vibes. 

Cut Fruit Collective: Can you share a bit about your artistic process? Is your process different when working with pottery versus painting? 

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: That’s a really good question because up until recently I've struggled with ceramics as a means of conveying an intense story. I think I was so… The languages of ceramics and painting were very separate for me. Painting was a lot easier to be like, “Oh, this is academic,” like I’m framing it, putting it in this weird juxtaposition, whereas often when I was making ceramics it was more of like a test of form and figure and material. I wasn't to the point where I was like “Oh I know how to make a pot about this particular research topic” up until recently. So only recently have I been able to kind of meld those together. Cuz now moreso, paintings are seeming more like sculptures and the pots are seeming more like paintings so it's kind of interesting how they are slowly starting to like meld into each other. 

Cut Fruit Collective: You are Shimanchu-Japanese diaspora, how does this part of your identity influence your art? In what ways has growing up in Hawai’i influenced your work?

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: It’s so funny cuz I am Japanese Shimanchu but my family is super mixed. My sister and I are the only ones in our family that are just Japanese Shimanchu. Like everyone else is very like, local mix, like Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chinese, everything. 

I remember going to the continental US and the people talking about not fitting into a specific narrative and I was like, “Wow, I don't even fit in to your stories here,” because everyone is still kind of sub-sectioned into like East Asian American, Southeast Asian, etc. There's not much merger between a lot of these identities and I think being in that greyspace all the time has just shifted my mind to a more universal appreciation of small individual stories  

I make a lot of work with Hawai’i iconography that are… unless you grew up here you wouldn't really get it, but that specific nature to it also makes it so personal and so relatable to a lot of people because even though they might not have shared the same TV stand as me, they have something that has that - favorite childhood book or whatever? Yeah! I think I always tell people, “It's not that we are together because we are the same, we are together because we're all so different,” and that mentality comes from growing up here in Hawai’i. 

Cut Fruit Collective: I know that you are an advocate for the accessibility of art. What experiences played a part in developing your opinions on the accessibility of art? 

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: I grew up in a household that, one, didn't speak proper English, and two, my grandmother also didn't speak English. I went to a private school where it was kinda beaten out of me, it was like, “Hey you're not gonna speak local English-” I call it local english, other people call it pidgin, I don't think I speak fluent pidgin. When I was younger I did speak like, not in correct grammar, and then I went to private school they were like “Why do you sound like that?” you know? So this kind of consistent code-switching taught me, “Okay there's power in language,” and I thought that would mean the smarter I sounded, the better I would be approachable, or the more access I would have to the world. In school I realized that it separated me from my family, that I would learn all these things about art and it would be in this language that no one understood, art speak, that it was useless. So I was like, “Why not kind of bridge gaps?” or make that the point, to bridge a gap, to make it accessible, because art SHOULD be accessible regardless of what language you speak. So yeah, that’s a big part of it, kind of going through the stage of education. Like why is some thoughts only written out in this one phrase, when it could easily be translated into another phrase? 

Cut Fruit Collective: Is that part of why you have been a tiktok creator and doing those videos? 

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: Yeah it’s kind of funny cuz I got tiktok because I wanted a hobby away from art. I made one video about an art piece that I loved and it went viral. I already knew I loved talking about art, and I love translating art to people because I know it’s difficult at times, but I was like, “Yeah! Why not do this?” cuz already so much of my practice was to make art - like to make people’s viewing of art more comfortable, to be more intimate. So I was like social media was just another means or media to do that. 

Cut Fruit Collective: What do you have in the works? 

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: Right now I'm just working at the artspace that I run near Ward (Honolulu, Hawai’i). That's been a fun experience. I have a few new pieces that I'm working on that are a lot more open ended questions. I'm making this one pot that I’m going to call my Chicken Skin Pot that's gonna have all of these Hawai’i ghost stories painted on it, but it's all black and metallic. It's kind of more, I'm trying to do more research ceramic works. Translating more into that medium. 

Cut Fruit Collective: What’s your favorite fruit and do you have any cut fruit or fruit memories? 

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: My favorite fruit is strawberry. I’ve always loved strawberries, my whole life. It's one of those fruits that I can eat a lot of it and get really sick and still eat it later. 

I’m allergic to mango, I eat it all the time though. I’ve just never stopped eating it. I remember there was a story about me as a kid and I loved pickled mango and my mom found me one day eating pickled mango out of the jar in the fridge and I was as red as the pickled mango. It was actually sad, I don't know if I'm still allergic that bad but I would get rashes from eating mango. I think it was from the sap. 

Cut Fruit Collective: It was worth it though?

Dane Hi’ipoi Nakama: Mhm, I love pickled mango.