The Great Exchange

Peter Bakelaar

August 26, 2020Nagoya, Japan

I am a member of a community art group made up of Japanese from many different backgrounds. We exhibit in downtown Nagoya twice a year. Each exhibition theme is chosen by the director. For an upcoming group exhibition entitled The Color of Buddhism, I started making this piece The Great Exchange. It represents my friend’s experience and invites questions about the great exchange needed for heaven in death.

  • What kind of exchange is fair for both rich and poor?
  • What kind of exchange would be sufficient for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation?
  • What kind of exchange would involve both justice and mercy even for those who have done terrible things?
  • What kind of exchange would make heaven assured?
  • What kind of exchange gives peace to someone facing their own mortality?

I learned a lot about Japanese culture while working on The Great Exchange. It enabled me to work with the beautiful designs I often see in Japanese art — swirling lines and stylized clusters of clouds, the fierceness of fire in solid sharp flickers like swords, long straight lines emanating from a central focal point to depict the glow of a spiritual presence, many hands in many different positions.

The hands at various levels convey different levels of heaven offered. The gestures reflect the give and take involved at each level. Clouds represent heaven. Fire represents hell. The glass is illuminated from within to convey otherworldliness. The aura represents the meeting place of the material and the spiritual.

People who entered my studio saw me making this work and asked, “What in the world is that? What does it mean?” In the exhibit itself, I look forward to seeing what great discussions are sparked.

The Color of Buddhism - Group Exhibition Website & Video