In celebration of Women’s History Month this March, I’ve decided to enlighten you as to my most beloved female activist and artist who at 84 years old is still as dazzling and impassioned as ever. Yayoi Kusama is a Tokyo-based contemporary artist, famous for her wildly conceptual, transcultural works such as the Fireflies on Water immersive-installation I experienced at New York’s Whitney Museum. A key figure in conceptual art in the Big Apple in the 1960s, Kusama was also a forerunner of Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism and Feminist Art whilst influencing icons like Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono.
The success of Kusama’s sprawling retrospectives at the MoMa, the Whitney and Tate Modern speak wonders of her popularity as did the $5m sale of one of her more sedate works, ‘No.2’ at Christie’s, New York in 2008. Curious to be part of the buzz, a fellow art-lover and I joined the two-hour line for her Whitney retrospective in 2012 and were blown over by the extraordinary range of her work. From photography to hysterical brushstrokes and film, we were silenced by the wonder of it all. Kusama seductively lures in her audience, enticing us with the wonder of it all. As a child in Japan, she suffered from wild hallucinations of speaking flowers and dancing patterns, which seem to have had a positive effect in fuelling the creative energy of her abstract work from the phallic ‘Accumulation 1963’ to ‘Lingering dream 1929’ with its mangled floral paraphernalia.
Surprisingly, we were most struck by her photography from the 1969 American ‘Summer of Love’. Kusama would paint gorgeous, nude models with swirls of dots and the images spread through the media as a form of sexual liberation and joining the wave of protests against the Vietnam war. Kusama famously went to the extent of writing to President Richard Nixon with the offer of sex in exchange for peace. Does the expression ‘make love, not war’ not come to mind? Despite the fact that the changing social climate moved into the darkness of war and that temporarily she moved back to a Japanese psychiatric hospital, her magic still lived on and she later declared that, “if it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago”. Now firmly back on the scene, Kusama describes the dots as her ‘virus’, which will forever tantalize her devotees and represent her artistic philosophy that we are all individual particles in a cosmos. They still define her career in works like ‘Dots Obsession, 2009/2012’ and even in Fashion as seen in the emerging dots trend modelled by Poppy Delevingne at Burberry Prorsum’s A/W 2014 show during London Fashion Week, and Kusama’s own collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2012.
I will leave you by urging you to free your senses by indulging in Kusama’s timeless sensation, the psychedelic audio-visual film ‘Self Obliteration 1967’:
By Flora Alexandra Ogilvy