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Colorful Hallucinations... By Yayoi Kusama

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

The Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama was born on 22 March 1929, Kusama was raised in Matsumoto, Japan. Yayoi trained at the Kyoto City University of Arts for a year in a traditional Japanese painting style called nihonga.

Yayoi In New York

Yayoi moved to New York City in 1958, she came to public attention when she organized a series of happenings in which naked participants were painted with brightly colored polka dots. Kusama has been struggling with her mental health since the 1970s. Yayoi lives in a mental health facility which she leaves daily to walk to her nearby studio to create art.

Yayoi's artistic style was influenced by her traumatic childhood, Yayoi's mother was physically abusive and would often send her to spy on her father's extramarital affairs, which instilled within her a lifelong contempt for sexuality. Around 1939, at the age of ten years old, Kusama began to experience vivid hallucinations which she described as "flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots".

Kusama's hallucinations included speaking flowers and patterns in fabric that she stared at coming to life, a process that she calls "self-obliteration". The vast fields of polka dots, or "infinity nets", as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations.

The earliest recorded work in which she incorporated these dots was a drawing in 1939 at age 10, in which the image of a Japanese woman in a kimono. Kusama went on to study Nihonga painting at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in 1948.

The European and American avant-garde movements had a remarkable influence on Kusama's mind, Kusama was able to express herself through several solo exhibitions of her paintings in Matsumoto and Tokyo in the 1950s.

Yayoi Kusama Exhibition
Yayoi Kusama Exhibition

After living in Tokyo and France, Kusama left Japan at the age of 27 for the United States. During her time in the US, she quickly established her reputation and received praise for her work from the anarchist art critic Herbert Read. In the early 1960s, Kusama began to create so-called soft sculptures by covering items such as ladders, shoes, and chairs with white phallic protrusions.

Kusama established marketing habits too, like having herself routinely photographed with new work and regularly appearing in public wearing her signature bob wigs and colorful, avant-garde fashions. Since 1963, Kusama has continued her series of Mirror/Infinity rooms.

In these complex infinity mirror installations, an observer sees light repeatedly reflected off the mirrored surfaces to create the illusion of a never-ending space.

In 1968, Kusama presided over the happening Homosexual Wedding at the Church of Self-obliteration. She opened naked painting studios, and a gay social club called the Kusama 'Omophile Kompany (kok).

The nudity in Kusama's art was severely shameful for her family; her high school removed her name from its list of alumni. In 1973, Kusama returned to Japan. Her reception from the Japanese art world was unsympathetic; one art collector recalled considering her a "scandal queen".

Kusama became so depressed she was unable to work and made another suicide attempt, then in 1977, Kusama found a doctor who was using art therapy to treat mental illness in a hospital setting. She checked herself in and eventually took up permanent residence in the hospital.

Getting her studio close to the hospital, Kusama has been living at the hospital in Tokyo ever since, by choice. Kusama continued to work as an artist in her ninth decade. It was intentional, Kusama exposed her hallucinations and feelings to audiences.

Kusama's experience seems to be unique. Kusama wanted others to sympathize with her in her troubled mental life. Without Kusama's trauma, Kusama would not have created these works as well, or perhaps not at all.

Kusama's work is in the collections of museums throughout the world. Art had become a coping mechanism for Kusama. Kusama often says: "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago." Kusama became the most expensive living female artist at auction when White No. 28 (1960) from her signature Infinity Nets series sold for $7.1 million at a 2014 Christie's auction.

Anarchism And Art

During the latter half of the 19th, the anarchist movement flourished in most parts of the world and had a significant role in workers' struggles for emancipation.

The term anarchism is derived from the Ancient Greek word anarkhia, meaning "without a ruler", composed of the prefix an- ("without") and the word arkhos ("ruler"). Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that seeks to abolish institutions typically including governments, nation-states, and capitalism.

Many revolutionaries of the 19th century would contribute to the anarchist doctrines of the next generation but did not use the term anarchism in describing themselves or their beliefs. The first political philosopher to call himself an anarchist was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), marking the formal birth of anarchism in the mid-19th century.

Anarchism advocates for the replacement of the state with free stateless societies. Anarchism's violent revolutionary tactics aim to bring down authority and state, whilst Anarchism also utilizes evolutionary tactics aim to prefigure what an anarchist society would be like.

Anarchism is usually placed on the farthest left of the political spectrum; it is usually described as the libertarian wing of the socialist movement.

Anarchism urged that humans lived in societies without formal hierarchies long before the establishment of formal states. Although traces of anarchist thought are found throughout history, modern anarchism emerged from the Enlightenment.

In the last decades of the 20th and into the 21st century, the anarchist movement has resurgent once more, growing in popularity and influence within anti-capitalist, anti-war, and anti-globalization movements.

Anarchism is the will for a non-coercive society and the rejection of the state apparatus. Anarchists consider the state a tool of domination and believe it to be illegitimate regardless of political tendencies.

Anarchist society would lead to sexuality naturally developing. A historical current that arose between 1890 and 1920 within anarchism was "free love". Anarchism carries the tendency to support polyamory, relationship anarchy, and queer anarchism. Anarchists advocated for or used art as a means to achieve anarchist ends.

Art could depict a critique of existing society and hierarchies and serve as a prefigurative tool to reflect the anarchist ideal society. As it appeals to both emotion and reason, art could appeal to the whole human and have a powerful effect.

The 19th-century neo-impressionist movement offered an example of an artistic perception of the road toward anarchism. For example, In "Les chataigniers a Osny" by anarchist painter Camille Pissarro, the blending of aesthetic and social harmony is prefiguring an ideal anarchistic community.

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