Date of Award

Spring 6-4-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)



First Advisor

Heather Rowe

Second Advisor

Laine Rettmer

Third Advisor

Gail Dodge


I’ve focused my graduate studies at RISD on the conceptual and social function of chairs as an investigation into comfort and grief. Grief is an apprehension: defined both as “to grasp” and as “anxiety/loss”.

With the multitude of deaths due to the inadequacies of our government and healthcare system, and the general anxiety everyone has been feeling through this pandemic, it has felt difficult to grieve for any individual person, in person. We have to grieve in the ways capitalism has taught us: silently, behind closed doors, without much time or fuss or drama, mourn with dollars and move on. In spite of this, I still find it important to carve out space for memory, honoring and celebration. More young people died of overdoses last year than from Covid. What is often lacking societally for people who use drugs is exactly what they are seeking. Why has it become so stigmatized to offer comfort to people who use drugs? Drug use is so rooted in finding a stand-in or surrogate for comfort. Our society does not create space for collective joy and grief. Most that exist are offered only in exchange for capital.

As I explore notions of “holding”, of the spaces I’ve hidden in, provided for others and the trauma that may reside therein, I am confronted with the assigned woman’s body as a site for grief and care, an armature of pain and healing. In Michaelangelo’s Pieta, Mary is a chair—her body has been newly aligned by the sculptor into one of an armature, out of bodily proportion to what is physically possible and concealed by excessive drapery. In Pieta, Mary holds: presence and absence; life and death; human and deity. My existence and impression in the spaces I’ve created feels more like an apparition than a protagonist, an attempt to move like the ghosts I know. Do ghosts sit? How do we trace impressions of air and build altars of comfort to spirits? What kind of work is required to build a space that contains loss?


View exhibition online: Zibby Jahns, Holding Spaces

Included in

Sculpture Commons



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