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Fujimura, Makoto - VM - Alexandra Davison

Makoto Fujimura: Pentecost

Embraced by the Spirit

by Alexandra Jean Davison

Pentecost is 50 days after Passover and marks the seventh Sunday. The Jews knew it as Shavuot, the Festival of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks, when God provided the early wheat harvest. Today we celebrate Pentecost as the day the church was born when the Holy Spirit came to believers in Acts 2. It was the harvest of nations.

The signs of God’s Presence, wind (2:2), fire (2:3), and speech (2:5-11), are the same signs given when Moses meets with God on Mt. Sinai and delivers the covenant to the people (Exodus 19). The old covenant was conditional and relied on their faithfulness to God. But now Jesus has established a new covenant that rests on him and his faithfulness.

Now, instead of a few people chosen to speak the truth and wonders of God, the Holy Spirit enables all believers to witness. God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and yet, like the burning bush in Exodus 3, the believers are not consumed when the fire comes upon them. Instead, when they are embraced by the Holy Spirit, they proclaim the way of the Lord.

Pentecost by Makoto Fujimura is part of a set of liturgical paintings completed in 2017 for All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. The church had a recent addition to the sanctuary, and he desired to make an offering. When Fujimura saw the “empty” or “waiting” walls, he saw an opportunity to serve with his art and for art to serve the worship and liturgy of the church. 

Fujimura writes that what “resulted is four sets of paintings, creatively re-used at times during the liturgical year, 6-foot-high diptychs that each span 12 feet in length. The panels are loosely based on the traditional liturgical colors assigned to each season.” Each painting has a creative correspondence with a counterpart. These seasonal dance partners are: Advent/PentecostEpiphany/EasterLent/Good Friday and two Ordinary Time diptychs. The season is distinguished with the panels placed either together or apart which can be read as either “open” or “closed.”

Makoto Fujimura remarks:

In Advent, we anticipate the birth of Christ, and these panels are “open” (with a slight space down the center of the diptych) to indicate God’s “crack” in time and space to bring our Savior into our domain. At Pentecost, that space will be closed, to indicate the power of the Holy Spirit’s act to close all communication gaps between us and God and between each other. The south wall (to the right as you enter the sanctuary) will be filled with the resplendence of Japanese gold on top of cinnabar and dark red. Because the canvas is gilded with microscopically thin Japanese gold, an intentional “distressed” effect took place when the surface was washed down. While washing down the surface of these panels, I placed other canvases below them. The canvases that “caught” the flowing river of gold now hang on the north wall. At Christmas, this flow reminds us of divine birth; at Pentecost, it reminds us of the lyrical flow of the power of the Spirit to move into our hearts, giving us another New Birth.

While Fujimura’s paintings could be a source of contemplation in an art museum, here they serve the church’s liturgy. In the sanctuary they serve as a faithful witness of God’s Presence even as they “embrace” the Eucharist, which is the climax of the liturgy. The Advent/Pentecost paintings reflect that it is not what you can do alone, but what God can do with and through his Spirit and the church.  

Fujimura concludes, “My offering will not be complete until the viewer moves into the mystery with faith, and then upon receiving the work brings that mystery of God’s Presence to the world.”

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Makoto Fujimura: Advent/Pentecost2017, mineral pigments and gesso on canvas, 6 x 12 ft diptych.

Installation views, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, 2017. All photographs by Alyson LeCroy.

Makoto Fujimura is an artist whose work is represented by Waterfall Mansion & Gallery in New York City and Artrue in Taipei City, Taiwan. His next book Art & Faith: A Theology of Making is due out of Yale Press, January 2021. For more information, see https://www.makotofujimura.com/.

Alexandra Jean Davison is the director for Culture Care RDU, a ministry department of Artists in Christian Testimony International (A.C.T. Intl). Her blog and work equips churches in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina to show Christ in hospitable explorations in faith, imagination, and artistry. She received an M.Div in Apologetics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. She then went on to receive an M.Litt in Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. She interned with Makoto Fujimura as part of the Fujimura Institute based in New York City. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, USA. For more information, see www.culturecarerdu.com.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 31 May 2020