Rima Fujita’s art is the stuff of dreams. Literally.
The Tokyo-born, New York-raised artist says that she paints the images that visit her in her dreams, and they generally take the forms of Tibetan Buddhist messages.
“I had a dream one night where I was told, ‘Help Tibet! Help Tibet!’” she says. “I didn’t even know where Tibet was.”
After doing research and learning more about the country, Fujita has created a body of work that expresses the basic values of Tibetan Buddhism, such as compassion, enlightenment, and spiritual awareness. Fujita’s most recent paintings are on display at Tibet House US in her solo exhibition Empowering the Extraordinary Dakinis, which runs through August 4.
“Dakini” is a Sanskrit word meaning “a female messenger of wisdom.” Fujita maintains that she is not the woman in her paintings; rather it is a Dakini that represents enlightenment and is depicted performing activities based on Tibetan Buddhist meditations. In Chödpa/2, part of a trilogy of mixed media on canvas, the Dakini is expressing the need to rid oneself of one’s ego by chopping of her head, which she is holding in her hands. Drops of blood that look like rain are also prominent in several pieces in this exhibition.
“Blood is a force of life, especially for women,” says Fujita. “We menstruate once a month, and the blood represents the changes our bodies go through.”
The themes of the cycle of life and impermanence are shared in Japanese culture and Tibetan Buddhism. The artist is inspired by wabi-sabi, the Japanese concept of appreciating the beauty in imperfection, and fleeting moments and other elements of Japanese culture can be found in her paintings. In Wishing, a Shinto priest performs a purification ritual as a Dakini admires a vase of cherry blossoms, one of the most iconic symbols in Japan.
The fox, a celebrated creature in Japanese folklore, finds a place in many of Fujita’s works. Considered to have magical qualities, the fox is a messenger for Shinto spirits. Fujita’s use of the fox is also a nod to animal activism. The silver fox draped around the Dakini’s neck in Chöd is alive and holding a container of blood. She also depicts Dakinis as freeing caged birds and protecting elephants and dolphins.
“The paintings look so happy because they are so colorful, but the subject matter is actually dark,” says Fujita.
She doesn’t know the meanings behind the paintings; she simply paints her dreams, which she says are “sometimes more like nightmares.” She considers herself a vehicle for spreading the word about Tibet, a secluded country controlled by the Communist government of China.
What she paints today is a complete departure from the work from her earlier days. After graduating from Parsons School of Design with a BFA in Illustration and Fine Arts, she says, “I was lucky to have work right away with big magazines like Vogue, but I wasn’t happy.”
Jaded by the business side of the corporate art world, it was only after her dream instructed her to help Tibet that she found purpose and meaning in her work. “I want to use my art as a tool to help others,” she says.
In 2001 she established “Books for Children,” a philanthropic initiative through which she has donated more than 12,000 books to Tibetan refugee children. She has published several children’s books, for which His Holiness The Dalai Lama himself wrote the forewords, and her latest book, Tibetan Identity, will be distributed to Tibetan communities worldwide in December of this year.
She never would have imagined that in her wildest dreams.
Empowering the Extraordinary Dakinis
Now through Thursday, August 4
Tibet House US – 22 W. 15th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues)