Prominent contemporary Christian artist, Makoto Fujimura, just returned from the UK where his works, the Four Quartets, were featured in the historic King’s Chapel, Cambridge, to open their Holy Week celebrations. It was the first time in their history that modern paintings were installed in the chapel. Here’s an excerpt from the talk he gave as the exhibit opened. (You can see the paintings here.)
What Art, or Poetry, can address the deepest wounds and traumas of our time? Can art and poetry speak into the darkest of the dark, as a faithful witness to our expanding Ground Zeros; Can art and poetry resonate in the haunts of a post-war fog; Can art and poetry survive the ravages of a tsunami that wipes away a whole fishing village?
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.
-from East Coker
My family and I found ourselves as “Ground Zero” residents after 9/11/2001. We lived but three blocks away. My colleague Bruce Herman found himself facing a fire that destroyed his house and studio, engulfing twenty years’ worth of artworks. T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets became our constant guide after these disasters. Bruce found these words from Little Gidding to be true: “to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.” When I read the third section of East Coker, which begins “O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,” I found even the darkest, most depressing passages quite comforting.
Art and Poetry are the scars-the “inveterate scars” – of trauma. The scar tissue still thickens in us; it also hides, heals and replaces the smooth skins of our innocence.
And the nail scars of the One, visible still, even in eternity, shine like stars in the darkest of skies. They remind us that we can look through the darkness to be “reconciled among the stars” (Burnt Norton).
What if artists and poets began to serve culture and seek each other, rather than striving for and retreating into self-expression? What if artists and poets lost themselves in the process of giving themselves away? I wanted to paint images that disappear, so that Bruce’s works can emanate; my paintings are the stage that is being rolled away, “the movement of darkness on darkness.” Such was a journey I was privileged to be part of for the QU4RTETS project; and as a result, paradoxically, I found my truest expression.