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Becoming an Artist With a Mission

Christopher Villanella

Brian Enright
Oakland, Calif.

I was a starving sculptor before I was introduced to the SGI. I knew I wanted to do art, but I didn’t have a plan or a sense of mission to pursue it for a reason greater than myself. My parents were visibly frustrated with me leaving my stable work in the technology industry to pursue art. And when they would ask me what my plan was, I never had an answer. The truth was, I was waiting for someone to discover me and help me become successful. I didn’t know how to make it as an artist.

In June 2013, I started practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI. My passion only deepened to create art from salvaged objects and repurpose them to bring joy and hope. In 2019, I held my first art show, featuring transformed objects that people considered trash into gallery-level sculptures. Some of my favorite pieces are made from confiscated weapons transformed into sculptures that bring people together and give them hope.

The pandemic brought with it a rollercoaster of financial challenges for me as a self-employed designer and sculptor. My income was unstable, and I wasn’t eligible for financial aid.

Brian Enright works on his art, Oakland, California, 2017. Photo by Christopher Villanella.

Around that time, I was appointed the men’s leader for Golden Gate Mentor and Disciple Zone. I decided to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo abundantly and reach out to as many men and young men as I could to support them in faith. I also doubled my monthly financial contribution as a result of the limitless appreciation I have for the organization and my mentor, Ikeda Sensei. I could feel my faith being tested as the activities and encouragement continued to be joyful, but I struggled even more financially.

At the end of 2020, Sensei shared these words about the significance of the decade toward the centennial of the Soka Gakkai’s founding: “We must be even more determined to show victorious proof of our own human revolution, to transform all great evil into great good and to effect a powerful change in the destiny of all humankind” (November 2020 Living Buddhism, p. 17).

I could sense the profundity of the times, and I made a concrete goal. I would become the top sculptor in the nation so that I could prove the power of the practice and tell the world about my incredible mentor, Daisaku Ikeda. I prayed to see clearly what I needed to do to get there.

I decided to look for work as a temporary measure to appease my financial situation. When I contacted a shop where I’ve supported previously, the lead artist told me that I had great timing as they were getting ready to start a huge project that would place large public art installations on high rises in major West Coast cities. I joined full time supporting a team of top artists working on this project. Even as I did so, my boss encouraged me to take time to work on my own art and develop my skills. This job gives me the financial stability and support I need as I work toward my goal.

With unlimited gratitude to the SGI-USA, I increased my financial contribution again at the end of last year. I know that making a genuine cause for kosen-rufu is making a genuine cause for my own life. I push myself to challenge my own preconceived limitations, and by doing so, I always see the effect of the causes I have made.

Sensei has taught me to dream bigger than what I thought was possible. It is only because of this practice and the guidance of my mentor that I have learned to turn every challenge and supposed “failure” into something of great meaning and value, just like my art.

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