After a successful debut last year, the BCA Virtual Art Exhibit returned for a second year and was dedicated to the late Rev. Masanori Watanabe of the Oxnard Buddhist Temple and the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara, a talented artist in his own right.
“Sensei enjoyed a deep appreciation for art and shared his own expressions in painted works,” said Rev. Joshin Dennis Fujimoto, Resident Minister of Buddhist Temple of Alameda and Supervising Minister of Enmanji Buddhist Temple. Rev. Watanabe passed away on Nov. 26, 2021, at the age of 49.
The exhibit leads off with two of Rev. Watanabe’s artworks — an early self-portrait and a portrait of Shinran Shonin. “This reflects a deep and personal impression left upon Rev. Watanabe as he endeavored to share the Nembutsu teachings of Master Shinran with all of us,” said Rev. Fujimoto, who supervised the art exhibit with Koichi Mizushima from the Center of Buddhist Education (CBE).
The exhibit, held Sept. 24 and posted on the BCA website, covers the spectrum of media — paintings, drawings, photography, ikebana, origami, wood carvings, sculptures, and calligraphy. And, like last year, it spans generations, from Dharma School students to seniors, and several themes, including Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, the Buddha-Dharma, and the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
What’s equally interesting and compelling are the stories behind the artwork, as described by the artist. The themes and the tone of the writings are as varied as the artwork — self-explanatory, confessional, wistful, matter of fact, and also defiant and rooted in self-identity.
In her stark watercolor of her maternal grandfather, Kyoichi Yoshida, Elaine Kuritani Tsumura of Tri-State Denver Buddhist Temple writes a poignant family story: “He emigrated from Japan as a young husband and father. He and my grandmother, Rise, settled in Ione, Colorado, and were devoted members of the Fort Lupton Buddhist Church from the early 1900s. Shortly after purchasing this Ford Model T in 1919, he died due to a farming accident. Kyoichi Yoshida died at the young age of 37, so none of his 16 grandchildren had the opportunity to know him.”
Zora Uyeda-Hale, a Berkeley Buddhist Temple member and this year’s co-winner of the FDSTL’s Nitta scholarship, submitted three exceptional entries that display her talent in printmaking, collages, and photography.
This is what she wrote about her print of a Giant Sequoia tree:
“This print was inspired by an item in the San Francisco Asian Art Museum's collection — a Korean ‘najeonchilgi’ table. The table features majestic cranes, phoenixes, and peaches, all symbols of longevity and prosperity in Korean culture. However, in our present day, these sacred symbols of vitality are currently being threatened by our own environmental (in)actions.
“When I think of longevity and resilience, I envision the Giant Sequoias. These groves of towering trees are beautiful and strong, yet like many of the symbols on the table, are also being endangered by the climate crisis.
“My aunt, a talented artist, patiently guided me through this new medium and helped me print the final product. This experience instilled in me a new appreciation for her work and generosity. Likewise, nature has often been my teacher as well, illuminating concepts like interdependence and growth. By rekindling our relationships with the Earth and other human beings, we can make sure these symbols — like the Giant Sequoia tree — remain representations of longevity and life for generations to come.”
In his poem and photo collage, William August Warrior of the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple pays tribute to his grandmother-in-law Wong Foon Yen (aka paper daughter Chiu Yook Lon), “and her journey from war-torn China to race-torn America, and her five-week detention in the barracks at Angel Island Immigration Station in 1926. I wrote the poem that is part of the collage after spending a night alone in the old detention barracks in the winter of 2009.”
The poem reads:
Roger Oda of the Buddhist Temple of Alameda drew his grandmother and her family based on a family photo. She was Kibei: Born in America, but raised and educated in Japan.
“I believe my sense of identity and what a community means were greatly influenced by this and continues to evolve even now,” Oda writes.
In another entry, Hajime Ohno of the Vista Buddhist Temple captures the longing and wistfulness of the prepandemic ways, when people could freely gather for simple, meaningful occasions like family meals. The scene is Ohno’s family enjoying Genghis Khan barbecue in Hokkaido, Japan, circa 1960.
In a unique entry — a watermelon carving — Kelly Grimsley of Enmanji Buddhist Temple writes: “I have always had a passion for art and love working with multiple mediums including printmaking, pottery, mosaics, cake decorating, and pumpkin carving. My work brings me great joy and calm in a world that can be over stimulating and chaotic for someone with autism. It also allows me to express myself without the need of spoken word. "
Brianne Hatano of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento presented unconventional — and amazing — Disney characters (Moana, the Little Mermaid, and Captain Hook) painted on rocks.
Betty Nobue Kano of the Buddhist Church of Oakland offered several colorful paintings, including one that is a reflection of itself. “If you look along the top spine of the spear, the pattern is mirrored across it. It is random and determined, sweet and fun,” she writes.
The San Jose Betsuin High School Dharma School 2021-22 class submitted “Things We Are Grateful For,” a mosaic of origami lotus blossoms.
“This year, we learned about the Fundamentals of Jodo Shinshu, which included learning about the: Shorter Amida Sutra, Contemplation Sutra, Larger Amida Sutra and the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho,” the Dharma School students wrote.
“We also learned that looking at the world in Gratitude is what allows the Nembutsu (and thereby, the rest of the Buddha-Dharma) to come alive in our lives. So, in gratitude, we say the Nembutsu. To embody this, the class created this mosaic of origami lotus blossoms. In each, we wrote what we are grateful for. This mosaic symbolizes the world that we live in and each lotus is a symbol of enlightenment. We would like to express our gratitude to Ms. Lisa Kobayashi and the Pre-School class which contributed lotuses.”
Maho Suzuki Garner of the Oregon Buddhist Temple submitted colorful watercolors that captured the joy and fun of the OBT’s in-person Obon to the quiet and calm of a drizzly afternoon at the Nishi Hongwanji Temple in Kyoto this summer.
“The temple yard was so quiet, except for the sound of rain softly hitting the umbrellas of the two priests going from one building to another one,” Garner wrote.
Other repeat artists included Madame Suiyo Fujimoto of the Buddhist Church of Oakland, who has taught the Ohara School of Ikebana Flower Arranging for more than 60 years.
Madame Fujimoto has the extremely rare title of Grand Master, holds both Tokudo and Kyoshi ordination from Nishi Hongwanji and has taught altar flower arrangements for the BCA to ministerial aspirants for years. She is the wife of the late Rev. Hogen Fujimoto.
In addition, one of Madame Fujimoto’s students, Suiko Maruyama of Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church, also submitted arrangements in this year’s exhibit.
“It is so wonderful to share and enjoy art from Sangha members all throughout the BCA,” Koichi Mizushima said.
“There are so many amazing submissions and I am enjoying reading all of the descriptions and seeing all of the pieces,” Mizushima continued. “Thank you so much for sharing your art! It is a great pleasure to be a part of this project, and I hope you all have an opportunity to enjoy this exhibit as much as I have.”