Rima Fujita: artist and activist
Rima Fujita hadn’t even heard of the Dalai Lama until she was told in a dream to ‘Help Tibet now!’ The accomplished artist has gone on to create a children’s book on the life of the Dalai Lama, as well as establish a foundation called ‘Books for Children on Earth,’ amongst her many other artistic projects.
The following is from an interview with Ann Tashi Slater.
How do you develop your images and theme?
I paint the dreams I have during sleep. I also paint the visions I see during meditation. It’s rather strange, but this is how I work.
Theme comes through intuition. Usually it’s something I’ve been thinking about, or am going through in my life at that moment.
How did you become involved in Tibet-related work?
One night in the 1990s, I heard a commanding voice in my dream say, “Help Tibet now!” I didn’t know anything about Tibet and didn’t even know who the Dalai Lama was! So I spent all day at the New York Public Library and found out about the tragedy of Tibet since the Chinese occupation. Then strangely, I began meeting Tibetans. One day I was talking with my first Tibetan friend, and he told me that as a refugee in South India he lived in a tent, had no food, absolutely nothing. Then I got this idea to create a picture book of Tibetan stories and donate it to the Tibetan refugees in exile. I started an organization called “Books for Children” and have created seven picture books and donated 15,000 books to Tibetan refugees. The goal is to help preserve Tibet’s unique culture and language.
Last March, I interviewed the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala, India for T Japan: The New York Times Style Magazine. I was given fifteen minutes by the secretary, but the Dalai Lama spent almost one hour with me. He offered me the best chai I’d ever tasted! I got really nervous beforehand, but in his presence, I felt so calm, comfortable, and peaceful. His focus is extraordinary. I’ve never met anyone like him – when he talks to you, he pays 120% attention and makes you feel as if you’re the only person who exists on this earth.
What experience has had the most impact on you?
My encounters with Tibetan refugees and meeting the Dalai Lama. Tibet, the Tibet cause, has changed my life as an artist and as a person. I was young and successful but didn’t know why I was creating art. After the voice in my dream told me to help Tibet, I realized my art was not a “goal,” a way to gain money and fame, but a means of contributing to society and humanity. This revelation gave me a true purpose in creating art and a sense of liberation from the greedy art world.
As Fujita explains in her Artist’s Statement, her vivid visual style is partially informed by unique Buddhist elements in her background: “As a descendant of the Japanese Last Samurai the fundamental essence of my creation is based on Buddhism and Bushido — the coexistence of self-discipline, commitment, serenity and compassion. However, raised in New York City my external life is utterly Westernized. My work is the result of intertwined hybrid cultures, countless layers of monologues and emotions that manifest in my dreams and meditation process…I work on black surface, ‘Nibiiro,’ the expression of a very dark grey from the Heian period (AD 794 to 1185) in Japan. I am inspired by a myth that if you mixed all colors that exist in Nirvana, the Buddhist land of Perfect Bliss, it would become ‘Nibiiro.’”
Sources: Staying Focused on Your Path: A Talk with Artist Rima Fujita by Ann Tashi Slater, Tokyo Weekender, November 1st 2019
Books for Children on Earth‘s goal is to produce children’s books for the orphans and children of the countries in need not only to help with their education but also to help them preserve their languages and unique cultures.
After Rima Fujita heard the voice in her dream exclaim, “You must do something for Tibet now!” she began researching. She learned that Tibet had been suffering under the harsh Chinese occupation since 1951. Thousands of refugee orphans live in exile in extremely humble conditions.
As an artist Rima decided to produce a children’s book for those Tibetan orphans and refugee children. In order to help them preserve their unique language and culture, she picked a folktale illustrative of Tibet’s rich culture and wrote the text in Tibetan and English. This first book is called Wonder Talk.
Having no budget for this project Rima collected funding herself and donated 2,200 copies of Wonder Talk to 81 Tibetan refugee schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan. In 2001 was officially selected by the United Nations as recommended reading for educators around the world. There have been many more books published by Books for Children on Earth since then.