Woman of the Week | Yayoi Kusama
Our 'Woman of the Week' series celebrates the women of the past and present that epitomise The Unstated woman. Resilient, benevolent, progressive and inspirational, these women are pioneers of the modern age.
This week we explore the life and work of one of contemporary art's most influential figures, Yayoi Kusama. Born in the city of Matsumoto in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan to an affluent family, many would expect Kusama's beginnings to be simple and facile upbringing, however, Yayoi Kusama's early years were fairly troubling. Her parents turbulent marriage and her mother's abusive behaviour was traumatic, and this alongside the vivid hallucinations that she began experiencing from the age of ten were a prominent influence in Yayoi Kusama's work. Described as "flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots" but Kusama, the hallucinations are comparable to her most distinguishable art pieces. She also had visions of flowers and patterns in fabrics that she was accustomed to seeing – both of which are evident in her works.
At the age of 13 Kusama worked in a military factory sewing parachutes for the Japanese army. Air raids and the engines of passing American fighter planes were a daily melodies for a young Yayoi Kusama, who expressed that the events of the war and constant reminder of mortality encouraged her to value freedom and creative expression.
Yayoi Kusama's work initially gained recognition and accolade in Japan in the early 1950s with her abstract paintings of natural forms using an array of paints from watercolour to gouche and oil on paper. Eventually Kusama's paintings like the confines of a piece of paper and her canvas became whole rooms, covering floors and walls with boldly hued dots (that she is best know for today). This new style of self-expression lead to international interest, where a Seattle art gallery held and exhibition of her works. Kusama eventually moved to New York, corresponding with artist Georgia O'Keeffe for advice on navigating the art scene in the bustling city.
Kusama spent most of the 1960's in New York, pushing the envelope on her art practice and capturing the attention of the art-world and beyond with eccentric happenings in the city's hotspot such as Central Park and Brooklyn Bridge. These happenings were in protest of the Vietnam War. These public art performances were a catalyst to Yayoi Kusama's public art performances towards the end of the decade, with 'Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at the MoMA (1969)' being her most well-known performance from that period.
Eventually Yayoi Kusama moved back to Japan, but continued to work internationally. Through the years her work has gain increasing accolade, resulting in retrospectives major galleries across the globe, as well as collaborations with fashion and beauty brands such as Lancome, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton.
Yayoi Kusama is now one of the most celebrated artist of our time, her avant-garde works are some of the most sought-after and recognisable, a testament to Kusama's ability to metamorphose endeavours into art through creative expression.