Conversation with Danielle Tanimura

With this recent political environment, I wanted to share a part of the interview I did with Danielle Tanimura, the last woman I interviewed for this project. Danielle is a transgender photomancer; her incredible work explores history and identity. Danielle and I have been friends since middle school. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to interview her about her work.

Elisa Shoenberger
I wanted to talk a little bit more about I think your more recent series, “Black Rain,” which you described as “a lonesome sprawling mega-cities draped in 80’s neon cyber-gutterpunk divinity.” How would you describe it?

Danielle Tanimura
That was a departure in a way from where I’d been because I spend a lot of time looking on the past in terms of family history towards these things. At a certain point it started coming around to: “Alright, at least from my chronic pain-wise, I’m out most of the woods. I have managed this. Alright, how about that gender dysphoria you were working on for a while there?” And I was like: “Hmm, how about that? Are you going to work on that?” It’s like: “Okay, how about your art?” All right, fine, I’ll get there too. So as an extreme departure was in a way: “Let’s take this on. Where are we right now? What do you need? What is this for? What are you going to do with it?” It’s like: “You’ve done the show. You’ve had the thing.” I feel like artist kind of now, not that I hadn’t before, but having first solo show solidly  in Chicago art community. I feel like I’m doing that now, but let’s take a look at where you’re at and being able to kind of contrast this dark strange world with still continued spirit of beauty and danger side of that and more about obvious reflection of where I wanted to see myself and  in some weird ways self-portraits as always in some ways just exploring what that looked like.

So I don’t know, it’s kind of where “Black Rain” came in. Plus the title itself, “Black Rain” is what happens after you drop an atomic bomb. It happened in Hiroshima. That’s how at least two of my grandma’s nieces died in the bombing because they lived outside of the valley on a farm. But the two nieces were going to school that day on the bus and they’re lost. Their mom later died of leukemia, but that was due to what happened following was the black rain. What happens is after you drop an A bomb, the radiation waste with that kind of bomb fills up the atmosphere. It changes the weather. It changes everything and what you end up with is radiated water in the air and it rains black literally and those few it rained on…. And yet all these people were survived the bombs, like covered in burns, and it rained, so they stood out in the rain or they couldn’t get away from it. But a lot of people died secondarily because of the black rain and this was all science and experiment at the time. No one knew and they came in and studied, but that’s where “Black Rain,” the title, came. Here’s the after effects. Here’s the storm that comes after. You thought it was over, but it’s not gone. That radiation lingers and my love of anime and my love of what it felt like going to Hiroshima now. Aside from the monuments, you can’t tell there was a nuclear explosion there. You couldn’t tell that it was the end of the world 70 years ago. It’s back and we move forward, but what happens when you accept that the wounds are there?  We’ve healed over it, but there’s still that scar. What does that mean? For me personally on a lot of levels, what was this like? That’s where that come from so….

A huge part of it was that I never did the cutting out pictures of the person I want[ed] to be from a magazine in middle school and cover my walls because that was not part of my experience. But it’s when you think about looking at images of what is femininity, what is woman, what is that and being like: “Alright, all these things and it’d be a Pinterest board now,” but it’s valid. Cuts from magazine saying: “Well these are all those things that I wish I was. I’m never going to get there.” That was part of what that series is about was like: “Alright, let’s just dial up the dysphoria and the fear and the panic and at the same time, let’s embrace this a little bit and explore it.” It became this kind of incensed real pointed journey and into this atmospheric new place, so yeah.

I asked her about Chicago and her influence on her art.

Danielle Tanimura
Right, just looking around, the neighborhoods we have community that’s being built and, I don’t know, it’s hard to get away from the timing of all this stuff. It was just the weekend following the election, as was planned, we went and saw Amanda Palmer here, one of my heroes, and it was just an amazing experience because it was kind of like all these people going to church. I don’t go to church, but I [was] going to church surrounded by people of certain idea of what art can do and here we are. And just hearing common voice turn steady. Alright, what I’ve read and what I felt is the things that’s panicking people is that you have the majority of people on liberal side of things nationally feeling dysphoria. This is what dysphoria is when you look at yourself in the mirror and you think: “I don’t recognize this. I don’t see this. This is alien. This is crazy. I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t know what’s going on,” and that’s happening nationally. Chicago has been doing that since we started. This has never been settled and everyone’s working to make their bit better despite the odds, and it’s true in the art world too. That’s very much there being the Second City is something that we suffer and also benefit from,  because whatever you’re doing it’s new.


To see Danielle’s work including Black Rain, check out her website: