Patrick Nagatani: Chain Reaction at the Bruce Museum features the artist’s entire Nuclear Enchantment series, a powerful body of work made between 1988 and 1993 dealing with the history of nuclear weapons development in New Mexico, as well as the effects of this industry on the people and places there.

As a Japanese-American, nuclear weapons were a particularly resonant subject for Nagatani, whose parents were both put in internment camps during World War II and whose father’s family hailed from outside of Hiroshima. Originally planned for August 2020, the exhibition was intended to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consisting of 40 photographs, the Nuclear Enchantment series presents a politicized intervention as Nagatani constructs multilayered, wildly imaginative images that unsettle our understanding of this complex time and place in US history. The jarring juxtaposition of ancient symbols and figures from Japanese and Native American culture alongside uranium mining facilities and contaminated deposit sites creates a visual discord that speaks to this complexity. At once harrowing and humorous, these artworks participate in the ever-relevant debate weighing the benefits of scientific and technological progress against the preservation of cultural history and the natural world.

The exhibition will also feature artifacts from the Bruce Museum’s historical collection, including Native American objects as well as a Soviet-issued gas mask and Geiger counter, which echo the dissonance that the photographs create and enhance the exhibition experience for museum visitors.

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