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Faith + Works Speaker Fidalis Buehler Finds Meaning, Inspiration in his Past

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Buehler encouraged students to explore and embrace their personal histories

For art professor Fidalis Buehler, the experiences and interactions of his childhood are more than memories — they are a permanent and deeply influential part of his identity.

In his Dec. 5 Faith + Works lecture, Buehler shared stories and lessons learned from his past, inviting students in the College of Fine Arts and Communications to explore their own personal histories — an undertaking which can at times, he acknowledged, be difficult or even frightening.

“I was always afraid of experiencing my culture when I was growing up,” said Buehler. “You have to learn to accept the side of you that’s just you and embrace that. When we go home at night, we put on a different hat, but why can’t the person who dances in front of a mirror also dance in public? What is that fear? Why am I afraid to let that fear get confronted?” Part of Buehler’s initial hesitancy to explore and accept his own identity stemmed from a feeling of being stranded between two seemingly conflicting worlds, particularly in the liminal space between his Euro-American and Pacific Island heritage and between his Catholic upbringing and his baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1999. “With one foot in Christianity and the other in my Pacific Island upbringing, it was no wonder that life would be peculiar,” said Buehler. “The decision to be baptized marked the turning point in my life as I tried to make sense of my new faith. I had the false idea that my entire life up until that point needed to be suppressed or forgotten, and this became my way of life for the next five years. But it came back — it came back in the words of my mom, in the words of my brothers, in the words of people that I served my mission with. It was clear that I needed to look back at my past.”

Once he began “mining memories” and recognizing the wide range of influences in his life, Buehler’s past became inseparable from his career as an artist. During his lecture, he shared pieces from his body of work and the stories that inspired them — from his brother playing football to his mother frantically working to counter what she believed to be black magic. Today, Buehler continues to preserve his past and heritage as he works to connect his children to the stories of their ancestors and build up their personal banks of memories through family traditions and collaborative art projects. “My children get involved in making my work; they make marks that maybe I wouldn’t make, so a reinvention happens through them,” said Buehler. “When I make art, I oftentimes think of those who are with us and ways to make a more collaborative experience.”

While Buehler tries to stay present and aware of the unique perspectives and abilities of the people around him, he also often finds himself drawn to those who are no longer with us. “When I paint, I put myself into a method of creative process where I try to embody the character that I’m thinking about,” said Buehler. “In some ways, this is to pay homage to the past, to give a voice to people who haven’t had the chance to share. Sometimes they act as spectators — they’re watching us, looking in. Sometimes they act as messengers to provide information and teach us.” This strengthened connection with the people, experiences and beliefs that make up Buehler’s personal history has brought additional meaning to his work and purpose to his life. “Our past isn’t our weakness — it’s a strength,” said Buehler. “My mother has a saying. She says, ‘I hear you in my bones, for written on the bones are the words.’ Like words etched on our bones, we cannot divorce ourselves from our personal histories. We can try, but eventually the words rise to the surface. They can awaken at any time, triggered by a sound, a smell, a color, a dream, a smile, a cloud, a pattern, a taste.”