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Rima Fujita: A Love Letter To Tibet

Like textured tapestries hung in mountain cabins, internationally acclaimed, Japanese American artist Rima Fujita’s works have the warmth of a log fire. They bloom and flow and vibrate like all the colours of nature and imagine what secret gardens of the soul look like. Fairies and transcendent humans and animals co-exist in valleys and meadows and invite you to become one with a world-vision where innocence is safe and unthreatened. Her art is not just skill but a feeling. She spent a lot of time alone as a child, painting and when she moved to New York as a teen from Japan, art became a bridge between her identity and the new friends she encountered.
She chose the Parsons School of Design over Ivy League colleges but something bigger was waiting around the corner to choose her.Like  all young artists, she wanted success and became famous alright and was offered solo shows by major blue-chip galleries. But she was constantly introspecting about her purpose.One day in 1993, the answer came. She landed at JFK after a long flight from Tokyo. She was sick had not a single dollar with her. Suddenly, a tiny woman appeared before her, took her hand and gave her a few dollars.  She smiled and said, “I know that you need it.”  The dollars were exactly the amount, Rima needed to get home. When Rima looked up, the woman was gone. The synchronicity was to continue.
Several months later, Rima went to a book shop in SoHo and a book fell near her feet. It turned out to be a collection of serendipitous incidents that people had been through. There was also a story of a woman who had been helped at a station by a mysterious stranger.    Something shifted within Rima and her life and art changed.


A powerful dream was to follow where she heard a voice saying, “You must help Tibet.”  But not only did she not know anything about Tibet, she did not know how as an artist she would be able to help it.  In an exclusive interview she recalls her work with Tibetan activism, her connection with Richard Gere and Dalai Lama and and deep bond  with India that shows up in her work.

images (4)

A dream for Tibet

The command to help Tibet came in a dream around 1993, and back then I did not know even know  who the Dalai Lama was! I always take my dreams seriously so I researched and found out about Tibet’s  tragic history.  “What can I really do for Tibet? I’m just an artist..,” I kept questioning myself for a while.Then strange things began happening. I started meeting Tibetans everywhere. I had lived in NYC for more than 20 years by then, and until then, had never met one single Tibetan.


One day a Tibetan friend was telling me about his life in a refugee camp in India. “We had nothing, Rima. No pencils, no books… not enough food so we were always thinking about food.” He said. Then lightening struck,  “Books for Tibetan children !” The journey led me to wonderful teachers including Tibetan monks, scholars, activists. Then I established Books for Children, an organization that creates children’s books and donates them. I’ve created four books so far – “Wonder Talk” (wisdom), “Wonder Garden” (compassion), “TB Aware” (health) and “Save the Himalayas” (environment), and have donated over 12,000 books to 83 Tibetan refugee schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan. All books have forewords by HHDL. All proceeds benefit the Tibetan refugee children’s education, and I donate my entire royalties as well.

images (5)

The soul connect with India

I love India and my love is intense. There is no place like India. I love its richness, chaos, beautiful designs, stunning colors, craziness. My background is the Japanese minimalist Zen… and my culture is based on order. Trains come on time in Japan and if they are half a second late, the entire nation gets angry! So the chaos in India is fascinating to me but somehow it works.Of course there is so much misery, too. I still freeze and get uptight when I am surrounded by begging children on the streets. I see women and children being treated badly. Those things break my heart.


I’ve always been drawn to Indian philosophy, literature, culture and art, and my interest became intensified when I began getting involved with the Tibet cause in my late 20’s- many Tibetan refugees live in India now including The Dalai Lama.Since my childhood I’ve respected Gandhi and his philosophy.I personally love RabindanarthTagore, and my personal Bible is an Indian sage’s work from the 8th century, “Guide to the Bodisattva’s Way of Life.” I deeply respect Bhagavad Gita as well. Needless to say, Dhammapada, is a favourite too.
My work is deeply influenced by Buddhism and Bushido (The Way of the Warriors) as my ancestors were the Last Samurais. Samurais had an incredible sense of honor, discipline, commitment, loyalty and compassion.
And though, the way I work is based on those principles, I have a special sweet spot for Indian miniature drawings and the Gandhara/Kushan Buddha statues. I love Ganesha and have painted many Hindu deities. I’ve been to Delhi, Mumbai, Dharamsala, Bangalore, Chennai, Ladakh just to name a few. Also, I’ve been to Ajanta and Elora to see the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples.I always visit the Tibetan refugee camps and schools that are usually in remote areas in India. I usually stay at Tibetan people’s homes since there are no hotels near by. Usually electricity and water are scarce and it always reminds me to be grateful. Tibetans are one of the kindest people I’ve met in my life.  My passion is in supporting orphans’ education. I visit Indian orphanages and Tibetan refugee schools in India I am always stunned and humbled by the children’s strength and endurance.
Unforgettable memories
When I visited a Tibetan refugee school in Leh, I went to their library  and saw my books in the shelves. They were all torn and in a bad condition. The librarian told me that they were all torn because the children loved them so much that they read them over and over. I was deeply moved and began crying. It was one of the most rewarding moments.
Meeting His Holiness Dalai Lama
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have met HHDL so many times.
I remember once in Tokyo. I saw HHDL at a hotel, and when he saw me, he smiled and came up to me to say hello. He grabbed my hands and gave me a Tibetan greeting (you put your foreheads together). I felt this very intense electricity running from his hands to my hands, and  all the way up to my shoulders. Once in Hiroshima, during the International Peace Summit, HHDL, Desmond Tutu and Betty Williams, all three Nobel Peace Prize Laureates were signing their names on the back of my painting that I had created for the summit. I was standing right behindHHDL holding three different colored chalks. I was hoping that each person would sign with a different color, but I did not say anything because I did not want to bother them.  All of a sudden, HHDL turned around, looked at me and said,
“You want us to use the different colors, right?”
He is intuitive like that.And very humble. He always says, “Don’t trust  what I say. Analyze and make your own decisions.”
The Richard Gere connection
I love and respect Richard Gere. He has movie star charm and is funny.
Once we were talking at a gala party and he had published his photo book, “Pilgrims” at that time.”I love your book,” I said to him. “Oh, do you have it?” Richard asked. I did not have the book, but I lied and said, “Of course!”
Yet, I am a bad liar, so he knew I was lying.
“Do you really?” he asked again. And there was so much laughter.

Another time at my book launch at Rubin Museum of Art in NYC: Richard was there and the photographers were trying to take a photo of us while we held up my books. Richard turned to me and said, “You must ALWAYS show your face to the camera, always” and gently lowered my book from my face. It was such a professional gesture from a professional actor. Both HHDL and Richard Gere notice small details. Perhaps they pay attention. Perhaps they are always mindful. Perhaps they are aware of each moment… perhaps those qualities come from their practice of meditation, mindfulness. But they both have immense kindness. The kind we need in the world.

**copyright for all pics with Rima Fujita

images (4) with The New Indian Express  

Reema Moudgil works for The New Indian Express, Bangalore, is the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of  Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, an artist, a former RJ and a mother. She dreams of a cottage of her own that opens to a garden and  where she can write more books, paint, listen to music and  just be silent with her cats.


If you like this, you may also like:

  1. Rima Fujita: Painting Peace And Prayers

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