Installations, sculptures, drawings: An artist, Miya Hannan’s website. Her practice is influenced by Asian death philosophy and rituals, as well as by her scientific education.
The source of my art practice goes back to my experiences working within the medical field in Japan. While interacting with patients for seven years, I was left with many questions around the issues involving the end of life. Being a scientist in a country with many superstitions gave me the ability to perceive the world from two contrasting perspectives. To deal with the difficult topic of death, I gradually developed the philosophical view of the world as one comprised of layers and linkages of history, a chain of lives and events that leads from one to the next. In Japan, the souls of the dead live on, spirits exist within nature, and land retains its destiny—people inherit the histories of the land on which they live. Influenced by archaeology and Eastern philosophy, as well as by scientific knowledge, my work depicts my view of death as another form of being alive.
Although I work interdisciplinarily using a wide range of mediums, such as installations, sculptures, drawings, book art, and social practice, all of my artwork comes from my belief in the importance of accepting death on a larger level. This idea is rather foreign to people in the United State, but I have found purpose in my practice in this country. Death is hidden and treated as taboo in this culture. However, denial of death causes more uncertainty and fear in society. Also, our society is now very culturally diverse, and the idea of death and dying varies depending on a person. Respect for each other’s cultures and beliefs has become more important than ever. By showing my artwork, I would like to deliver to people the idea that there are various ways of dealing with death in the world and to allow them a moment to think about human fate.
In the last five years, I have had nine solo and ten group exhibitions, some of which were international. I made an effort on expanding locations where I exhibit my artwork because before joining the University of Nevada, Reno, my exhibitions were mainly in California. I widened my exhibition locations to five new states and three foreign countries. Some international group exhibitions were significant for my career. For example, I was invited to join the Woman’s Essence Show in 2019 and 2020 organized by the Musa International. They invited artists from more than 30 countries, and I was one of the selected artists from the U.S. The 2019 show was held as a concomitant event in the official Pavilion of Bangladesh 58th Venice Biennale. The 2020 show was organized by the collaboration of Musa International and UNESCO as a gender equality project.
I have also undertaken two major, long-term art projects. One of them was an artist's book project, Three Poems Disrupting the Language. I was honored to be invited by Brighton Press, an established fine art press in San Diego, to collaborate and create this limited-edition artist’s book with them. The artist’s book I worked on was a collaborative book with the poet/artist Bill Kelly. My part of the book was to translate his poems into Japanese and make images throughout the book. We produced the edition of fifty books of which I hand-painted each page. So far, the book has been included in collections of 28 institutions including Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
The other project is an on-going social practice project, Patria Soli. This project helps people who are not able to go back to their homeland at the end of their life by delivering soil from one’s homeland to a person. I collaborate with Professor Jillian Tullis at the University of San Diego, who is a health communication specialist. We hope that this simple gesture will provide participants a sense of comfort and a conversation starter for necessary, otherwise difficult, communication between people and their family. The first two years were spent establishing the project, obtaining a soil shipping permit from the US Agriculture Department, applying for funding, and building social media and the website. In 2020, I was accepted to present my project in NY with Reimagine End of Life. Even though the event was turned into a virtual event because of COVID-19, I presented workshops collaborating with the large non-profit organization Reimagine. I also had a radio interview about the project by KSVR-FM, Bellingham, WA.
I was awarded three prestigious artist residency programs, Red Gate Residency, Beijing, China, Willapa Bay AiR Residency, Oysterville, WA, and Open Air Artist-in-Residence, Missoula, MT (scheduled for this summer). I was also fortunate to receive two regional grants (Nevada Arts Council and Sierra Arts Foundation), five UNR-based grants, and a UNR-based fellowship for various projects and exhibitions. Some of my exhibitions, projects, and artworks were reviewed by magazines.
My plans for the next five years are to try to have more museum shows and international shows, begin another book art project, and move forward with my Patria Soli project. I will continue my studio practice establishing and strengthening my artistic voice. As an artist who works with both two- and three-dimensional works, my goal has been finding the way to combine the two aspects in one artwork. This effort will continue. Also, I would like to conduct more projects outside galleries and museums where I can be directly involved with people though my projects. This will continue to be an important part of my practice since one of my artistic goals is to change people’s attitude toward death.