Monday, March 28, 2011

Art Fundraiser/Auction for Japan's Relief Efforts, Mendelson Gallery April 16, 2011

Art Fundraiser/Auction for Japan's Relief Efforts

Info from organizer and artist Tara Zalewsky.

Saturday April 16, 2011 from 4-7pm (one night only)
Mendelson Gallery
5874 Ellsworth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15232-1738
(412) 361-8664

Artist proceeds go to Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania and Brother’s Brother Foundation.


“Water-Babies” is a series of drawings, paintings and sculptures based on the haunting stone figures marking children’s graves in the Okunoin cemetery that I experienced on a trip to Japan last October.

Okunoin is located in Mount Koyasan, a mountain range to the south of Osaka. It is the largest cemetery in Japan and was settled in 819 by the monk Kukai. Located in the Koyasan religious center, it is dedicated to Shingon Japanese Buddhism and includes 120 temples. Koyasan is designated as a World Heritage sacred site.

In this series inspired by Okunoin, I depict images of the statues that mark the graves of children. The presence of these otherworldly stone figures has remained in my mind since my trip. The statues range in size from smaller than a foot, to human scale, and depict childlike figures, sometimes simply dressed as a monk or Bodhisattva (an enlightened or holy person). In modern Japan, these figures represent Mizuko Jizo, the “patron saint” of lost children who have died prematurely, infants, newborns or stillborn children. The two Chinese characters that make up his name “Mizu-ko” translate to “water- baby”, signifying the lost children who float in an otherworld realm.

Before the 20th century, there was less than a 50% chance of a child surviving to age seven. Even today in current Japanese culture, very young children have a revered role as “mysterious beings”, who are not quite of this world, or fully rooted to this life, and thought of almost as oracles or a link between humans and the gods.

The Okunoin cemetery is populated with hundreds of these little statues dedicated to Mizuko Jizo and the lost children they memorialize. The figures are frequently dressed in little clothes or red bibs by the parents of a departed child, in the hopes that the spirits will recognize their child from the bib he or she wore and provide protection. Walking through Okunoin, filled with its ancient trees, and forest of stone figures, one is humbled by the presence of so many people, and so many years. Some of the bibs on the little stone figures are firecracker red, others have faded. They are hauntingly sad, with a melancholy that follows you home. My drawings and paintings depict them with bright colors that seem to allude to the simultaneous living presence of the light I encountered that day on the early October walk through Okunoin.

My artwork is dedicated to these lost children, the “Water-Babies”, the namesake of this exhibition.

"The profits from the sale of this work benefit the recent Earthquake and Tsunami relief efforts of the Japan-America Society of Pennsylvania and Brother’s Brother Foundation."


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