The Holocaust Room/Jizo Shrine

Years ago I had a dream of an art installation on a city street. The front wall was angled in, the door was beside that place where they met. It might have been made of black glass. Inside was a big square room, set diagonally so it was at a 45° angle to the grid of the city streets and the other buildings. It was painted a flat ash grey. There was perhaps a bench, and a pile of ashes, and a big pile of shoes. I knew that its name was “The Holocaust Room” and it was a place where women who’d had abortions or miscarriages could go to grieve. I had recently become aware that women who’d had miscarriages didn’t usually give themselves enough time to grieve. I was also concerned for the plight of a woman who has an abortion. Because of the opposition to abortion in this culture, such a woman would not feel safe to grieve. I built a small cardboard model of the Holocaust Room. Later, I thought that it could also be a place where one could mourn uncompleted projects. I have a lot of these, my studio is filled with half-finished pieces. I used to be angry at myself for not having what it took to complete a project. Only when I began to understand the full consequences of early trauma, did I begin to be able to forgive myself. I could see what kept happening: I would start a project with a burst of inspiration and energy and then somewhere along the way I would get triggered into despair or terror. By the time I had weathered that attack, the energy I had for the project was gone, and it would lie on a shelf, gathering dust.

I told Caryn, my trauma therapist, about the Holocaust Room, and my need to mourn the miscarriages and abortions of my creative projects, the ones that never “came to term”. She said “Would it interest you to know that there are other cultures that have such places?” I said “YES!” and she brought out a card of a shrine to Jizo in Japan, and showed me pictures of some of the many that she had seen.
I had found a place along the forest path that I thought would make a great shrine for unfinished projects. It was just off the path, a small circular space with one tree at the center, surrounded by trees, but this one small area was open and covered with moss. So I decided to make a Jizo figure to preside over the shrine. I was taking a pottery class at the Littleton Studio School, and was able to use their kiln and glazes. After I made the big one, I realized I had no idea how to glaze it so I made several smaller ones to practice glaze. Later, I sold a lot of the small ones at the Neskaya Holiday Fair.

I also did some research on Jizo: Jizo began as a bodhisattva in India, named Ksitigarbha. “The name may be translated as “Earth Treasury”, “Earth Store”, “Earth Matrix”, or “Earth Womb.” Ksitigarbha is known for his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied; therefore, he is regarded as the bodhisattva of hell beings.” [Wikipedia] In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is a being who has attained enlightenment, and could go off and live happily in the world of bliss, except that he/she chooses to come back to earth to help all sentient beings to attain enlightenment. (Bodhisattvas are non gender specific, having incarnated as both men and women through countless lives.) “Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, particularly children who died before their parents. Since the 1980s, he has been worshipped as the guardian of the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses.” [Wikipedia] In modern Japan, Jizo is a savior, a friend to all, never frightening even to children, and his/her many manifestations incorporate Taoist, Buddhist, and Shinto elements.

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