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We propose to have a residency/workshop and conference in Suwa with all-female participants.
Suwa is located in central Japan. It was the center of Jomon culture some 4,000 years ago, and its spiritualism is deeply connected to its environment. Suwa Taisha Shrine is one of the oldest in Shinto shrines in Japan, but it originated long before the birth of the nation, or the establishment of
State Shintoism. In addition, Suwa is the place where the conceptual artist Matsuzawa Yutaka lived all his life, advocating “banbutsu no shōmetsu” or the elimination of all materials things.
Some might ask, why all-female? Similar to other ancient cultures, Jomon artifacts and figures feature images of the female body, a representation of fertility and reproduction. Often the figures were intentionally broken, and body parts were buried separately, indicating the ancient ritual symbolizing the cycle of life and death. 'Women as Goddess’ images were often used by feminist artists in the 1970s, but they were criticized for being essentialist, overtly emphasizing motherhood, equating nature and women; and invoking women mobilized as 'Mothers of the Nation' under Japan’s Imperial system.
Therefore, we need to carefully and critically re-think the relation between spirituality and women's bodies. We do not want to discard the potential of ancient spiritualism and its circulating time and space, represented by the female body altogether; but at the same time, we must search for different interpretations and representations that resist the essentialism and nationalism.
I believe that spiritualism and femininity should be discussed and examined by those who identify as women. It is not a ‘separatist’ move; rather, it is to help clarify our critique, as criticism against representations of female images by male authorities would merely inhibit female artists and silence them again.
Most of the local scholars researching spirituality and female iconography seem to be male. I have learned a great deal from them and have deep respect for their scholarship, but I also feel rather uncomfortable being often the only female (and outsider) among them. I know there are very strong women in Suwa, but they do not seem to be interested in ancient history and spiritualism. They probably do not consider such things to be relevant to their current everyday situation. But spiritualism IS deeply related to their daily productive and reproductive work—often considered to be 'women's care work'—but this is often overlooked, hidden and silenced as insignificant. The workshop will be a site in which their experiences and memories can be shared and analyzed.
Throughout this project, we will ask: how can we radicalize spiritualism in order to bring about change?
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