7 Things To Know About Yayoi Kusama Before Going To Her Singapore Exhibition
Even if you don’t know who she is, you’ve probably seen Yayoi Kusama’s artwork floating around on the Internet (or on friends’ Instagram stories). They usually feature a sea of polka dots, a particularly popular one of which is a bright yellow pumpkin with lots of black dots.
One of the world’s most influential artists, Kusama is a pioneer of the avant-garde and her work usually also involves nets and infinity rooms. If you haven’t already heard, her first major museum exhibition in Southeast Asia has just reached our shores. The show is open to the public from Jun 9 to Sep 3 at the National Gallery Singapore.
Planning to go check it out? Here are seven things to know about the 88-year-old Japanese artist and writer before you immerse yourself in her eclectic world.
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1. Her love for pumpkins started in her childhood
Kusama has said that she became fascinated by pumpkins when, as a child, she came across one and it began speaking to her in the “most animated manner”. She finds the bulbous fruits to be “tender things to touch, so appealing in colour and form”.
2. She's been plagued by hallucinations for a long time
The artist suffered from visual and aural hallucinations as a child. “One day, I suddenly looked up to find that each and every violet had its own individual, human-like facial expression, and to my astonishment they were all talking to me,” she has said.
3. Her obsession with polka dots has a dark story
The artist first hallunicated about polka dots when she was 10, which was a very tumultuous period in her childhood. According to her autiobiography, Infinity Net, her mother was abusive and her father, absent.
4. It wasn't always all about the polka dots, though
Kusama studied the Nihonga painting style in Kyoto in 1948. However, she found the style to be too rigid, and eventually moved to New York for more inspiration. “When I think of my life in Kyoto, I feel like vomiting,” she has said.
5. She's been living in a mental hospital for the past 37 years
After the passing of her longterm partner, Joseph Cornell, Kusama returned to Japan and checked into a psychiatric hospital following a mental breakdown. She continues to live there by choice and has never married.
6. She turned to American artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, for advice
She chanced upon a book of paintings by O’Keeffe and decided to write to her. Her letter read, “Would you kindly show me the way to approach this life?” She has said that O’Keeffe’s reply gave her the courage to leave for New York.
7. She's also written to leaders of great nations
She once wrote to French President René Coty saying, “Dear Sir, I would like to see your country, France. Please help me.” Coty encouraged her interest in art and told her to enroll in a cultural exchange programme. She also wrote to Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War about being non-violent, but did not receive a reply.