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  • Thumbnail for Maiden and Ox
    Maiden and Ox by Mayumi Oda (b. 1941)

    Print 19 of 33, woodcut on paper, 18 x 12 inches. Mayumi Oda is a Tokyo-born Japanese-American woman print-maker, who is a graduate of Tokyo University of Fine Arts and the Pratt Graphic Center, NY and who now lives on a farm in Kealakekua, Hawaii. Oda is as well known as an activist for environmental and women's causes as an artist. She is one of the founders of Plutonium Free Future, which seeks safe energy, and she works with the World Court Project that hopes to make nuclear weapons illegal. She is the author of "I Opened the Gate, Laughing: An Inner Journey and has written on her love of farming in "Sun, Seeds and Soil" in Resurgence 229, 2005. She has also translated the writings of Hiratsuka Raicho (1887-1971), a Japanese feminist important in the development of the Creative Print Movement. Oda titled this print Maiden and Ox, but the image is clearly based on the theme of the Ten (or Six) Zen Oxen or Bulls, there being no distinction in Japanese between the male and female animal or between oxen and cattle. The theme of the Ten Zen Bulls was often illustrated as a series of circular pictures. The theme compares the process of reaching enlightenment in Zen Buddhism to taming a bull. Pictures of the Ten Zen Bulls generally begin by showing a bull-herd wandering aimlessly until he spies out the animal. He chases it, ropes it, and struggles with it until the animal meekly follows him. The bull-herd can now ride the bull with such confidence that he is able to play his flute while doing so. Next, the bull-herd is shown praying. A blank circle follows, then a scene in nature, and finally, an image of the bull-herd standing next to some great Buddhist figure, such as Hotei. The meaning of the parable of the Ten Zen Bulls may come from the fact that oxen and cattle, as the largest animals known in Japan, are symbols of flesh. Interpreted this way, the point of the parable would be that the flesh (bull) must first be perceived and then tamed, in order to enter a religious path. Not until the flesh (bull) follows the mind (bull-herd), and indeed, not until flesh and mind are completely comfortable with each other (the bull-herd riding the bull and playing his flute) is it possible to reach enlightenment, or the understanding of nothingness (the blank scene). Finally, the good Buddhist, having achieved salvation, returns to the world (the scene in nature) to help others as the great saints did. Oda transformed the usually male ox-herd of the Ten Zen Bulls into one of her goddesses, but otherwise reproduces the figure's relaxed pose, seated on the bull and playing his flute. The goddess is drawn in outline, with her white skin the color of the unprinted paper. Black lines render the goddess' arms, neck, eyes, and other anatomical details. The bull, by contrast, is composed of large black masses that have been shaped carefully to leave long open strips of unprinted white paper. The white strips serve as the contours of the horns, folds in the neck, and upper parts of the right fore and back legs. Oda's Maiden and Ox, consequently, is not just an image commenting upon gender issues in Buddhism or the need for the spiritually enlightened to work in the world -- Oda has said that she began making her goddess series in response to the Vietnam War. Maiden and Ox is also a statement on the nature of line in art and its relationship to the planes that it creates.