Beginning Sept. 9 at the LSU Museum of Art, “Painting Enlightenment: Experiencing Wisdom and Compassion through Art and Science” will be made available to the public. The exhibition features works by the late Iwasaki Tsuneo, a Japanese artist and scientist.
Iwasaki set out to create a contemplative journey through his artwork — “a meditation on the interconnectedness of the universe,” according to an LSU MOA news release. After retiring from a career as a research biologist, he created pieces of art to express the relationship between science and Buddhism.
“His paintings express his intent to heal the human heart of suffering from isolation,” said Courtney Taylor, LSU MOA curator. “Iwasaki illuminates the teachings of the Buddhist Heart Sutra with atomic, biological and cosmic forms.”
Born into a Pure Land Buddhist family, Iwasaki served in World War II, which prompted his concern with environmental destruction and violence in the nuclear age.
Instead of drawing lines, Iwasaki used characters of a fundamental central Buddhist scripture to create images. According to the news release, he copied the sacred texts, which is considered a form of devotion in Japan.
Guest curator Paula Arai, a philosophy and religious studies associate professor, has worked closely with this project since 1999, when she first met Iwasaki.
“He conveys the meaning of the scripture visually,” Arai said. “By looking at the image, you gain insight into the meaning of the scripture.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama blessed Iwasaki’s paintings because of their “capacity to illuminate resonances between Buddhist and scientific understandings of reality,” Arai said. She even had the chance to discuss the paintings with the Dalai Lama during the course of her research.
Through her research, Arai said she has learned volumes about the world and the power of images. She interviewed Iwasaki over the course of three years before he died in 2002, but there were many details and paintings they never covered.
“I’ve studied quantum physics, biology, neuroscience, chemistry and astrophysics to be able to understand more of what he put into the paintings,” Arai said.
The exhibition will include interactive features, such as a “word cloud” allowing visitors to jot down their thoughts and then hang them in the gallery. This gives visitors the opportunity to see how their thoughts align with those of others.
Mindful knots, another interactive feature, will allow visitors to develop positivity or dissolve negativity by writing “mindful intentions” and hanging them in the gallery, creating a shared experience with other guests and contributing to the culture of the exhibit, Taylor said.
Buddha boards will also be available to guests. After writing on them, one’s words will immediately disappear. Taylor said the boards promote “beauty in impermanence” and allows visitors to “try their hand at the calligraphic marks that form the basis of Iwasaki’s process.”
“The addition of a few simple interactive components that demonstrate core themes of the exhibit will help our visitors slow down, reflect and have the contemplative journey that Dr. Arai envisioned,” Taylor said.
Other related programs will be offered throughout the duration of the exhibit, including sake tasting and stargazing, a bonsai demonstration and yoga.
Arai said she is passionate about the artwork because of “its power to expand people’s perception of reality and its capacity to help people heal.”
“The art has been shown in a few other venues, but this is the first serious museum exhibition outside of Japan,” Arai said.
Because Iwasaki’s art is not dependent on someone sharing the Buddhist and scientific views of the world, Arai said she hopes people feel restored, stronger and more alive after viewing the exhibition.
“I think, especially, after what Baton Rouge has been through recently, with the social and natural violence, that going to the exhibit can give you a contemplative space to breathe,” Arai said.
The exhibit will be open until Nov. 27. Admission is free with a valid LSU ID.