Mending Journeys of Trauma Through the Arts During COVID-19

Interview with Dr. Makoto Fujimura on his work with Shusaku Endo's "Silence."

Posted Apr 27, 2020

Makoto Fujimura, used with permission
Source: Makoto Fujimura, used with permission

Trauma is an all too difficult reality in life, especially amidst painful, even traumatic, circumstances like COVID-19. However, there are many ways to walk this challenging journey and build resilience. The arts are one such avenue for finding profound healing.

Makoto Fujimura (b. 1960, Boston) is a leading contemporary artist whose process-driven, refractive “slow art” has been described by David Brooks of The New York Times as “a small rebellion against the quickening of time." Fujimura’s art has been featured widely in galleries and museums around the world and is collected by notable collections including The Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, The Huntington Library as well as Tikotin Museum in Israel. His art is represented by Waterfall Mansion in New York City and Artrue International in Asia. He is a recipient of four Doctor of Arts Honorary Degrees; from Belhaven University in 2011, Biola University in 2012, Cairn University in 2014, and Roanoke College, in 2015.

JA: Why did you set out to write your book?

MF: The request was initially from an agent friend who worked directly with Martin Scorsese at the time, to read the early script of the movie Silence and respond by writing a book that explains the context of the history of Christian persecution in Japan and the cultural background. I turned him down twice, fearing it would re-trigger some of the trauma that I have been through. 

He finally offered for me to meet with Marty directly to discuss the film. After I met with the director, I felt I was invited to an important journey, a necessary but challenging one: to provide a historical link to 17th Century Japanese aesthetic history which I studied in Japan as an American National Scholar, and has significant overlaps with my personal journey with the masterwork of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. I found out that Marty and I had much in common with our journey into Endo’s life.

JA: What is the primary takeaway you hope readers will learn from reading your book?

MF: Silence, despite being about the persecution of missionaries in Japan in the 17th century, is a profoundly missional book. It internalizes historical trauma into our complex, dilemma-filled modern experiences, and acts as an antidote for our fractured culture while addressing the universal realities of traumas of our pasts. The journey sends us out back into the world full of traumas as ambassadors of peace and grace.

JA: What are some lessons from your book that can help people live more resiliently?

MF: The book and story of Silence is a deeply painful story. And yet, as I have described, it is an “antidote” like an immunization shot for our trauma filled days. Art allows us to mediate such intense experiences by giving us a language by which to navigate it and by developing a capacity for empathy and imaginative maps to journey beyond the darkness. My book traces the journey through trauma, giving a passageway for the readers to experience hope in darkness.

Just like in the venerable tradition of Kintsugi (gold mending of fractured tea bowls) in Japan, we need to behold the fragments of a broken vessel first, sometimes for generations, before giving the fragments to a Kintsugi master who will mend with gold. The resulting object is far more valued than the original, giving us a glimpse into the New.

JA: What are some insights from your book that help readers support a friend or loved one?

MF: I mention several specific stories of friends and family members that have gone through trauma including my own grandfather who witnessed the devastation of the Hiroshima bombing. I address these examples as specific journeys that the book Silence can address directly. As my book was written and released, I had gone through some darkness in my life as well. I had to, then, believe my own words about the power of the arts to bring authentic healing, the need to generate a new narrative over the brokenness we may experience.

JA: What are you currently working on these days?

MF: I have just completed my new book, Theology of Making (published by Yale Press due out this fall). But my main work is done in the studios painting, both in Princeton and in Los Angeles, creating art that gets exhibited in New York City and Asia.

As a result of my books, I also embarked on launching Kintsugi Academy to provide a guided experience of mastering Kintsugi yourself. I have partnered with a Kintsugi Master to provide accessible kits and training. See @academykintsugi on social media for more information.

JA: Anything else you would like to share?

MF: Despite the journey into trauma and resulting lingering trauma of my own, I am grateful for the opportunity to journey with Endo into the heart of the darkness of Japanese culture. Writing this book has given me a new glimpse into my own recognitions of my deeper loves, and brought me back to the act of painting, which is my first love.


Fujimura, M. (2016). Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering. IVP Press.

For more content related to this book, also see this link.

Also follow Dr. Fujimura's work at @academykintsugi on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.