Yayoi Kusama And Her Obsession With Polka Dots

Japanese contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama is famous for her conceptual art which includes some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism. The 91-year-old artist came to the limelight by organising a series of happenings in which participants were painted with brightly coloured polka dots. The artist, who moved into New York City in 1958, has become a part of the pop art movement and embraced the rise of the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s. The artist, who started applying the motif to paper, canvas, walls, and even her own naked body, has contributed much to Pop, performance, and installation art.

Yayoi Kusama And Her Obsession With Polka Dots

Being a polka dot enthusiast can be tricky and saturated territory- Everything is just full of dots, right? But she is acclaimed for her amazing skill of creating flawless dot artworks without any trials or stimulations. What defines most of her works is the repetitive dot paintings, yellow pumpkin motifs, mirror room and soft sculptures. She creates art indifferent spaces and mediums with various colours and eye-catching installations that contributed to the contemporary face of art. Kusama is currently one of the most influential and highest-paid female contemporary artists in the world.

Yayoi Kusama And Her Obsession With Polka Dots
All the eternal love Yayoi Kusama has for pumpkins!

Kusama’s artistic journey is full of contradictions and her unique psychological condition, particularly her obsessive-compulsive neuroses, reflects artwork to be simple yet complex. Some of her works reveal her own wish to be obliterated, as well as self-admiration, and narcissism at some point. She worked in Indonesia as part of the Museum MACAN’s exhibition project that was adapted as an educational book for the new generation. The compulsive application of polka dots in Kusama’s works was a result of the distressing hallucinations and visions she had in her childhood. She was frightened by the eloquent sights of dots reoccurring in flashing lights and floral patterns that absorbed the room in a way to make her feel obliterated.

Yayoi Kusama And Her Obsession With Polka Dots
Infinity Retrospective at Lousiana Museum

With the popular installation series ‘Dots Obsession’, Kusama re-established her signature polka dots and mirrors, along with huge, nebulous inflatable objects. The series was influenced by her childhood hallucinations of repeating patterns in the entirety of her surrounding environment. The artwork also reveals her attention to detail while creating space using colour, and form and play of light and perspective using some simple devices. The installation is presented in two modes of immersive experience: -One with formal continuity using giant balloons, red paint and white polka-dot pattern on the gallery walls, floor and ceiling. And, another with the infinite effect created by strategically placing mirrors from floor-to-ceiling.

She was encouraged to the art, as a therapy to release her oppressive feelings after being diagnosed with a debilitating psychiatric disorder, an after-effect of a difficult childhood. Kusama had a passion for art since a very early age but was discouraged by her mother which eventually affected her mental health. The death of her longtime partner Joseph Cornell among many other issues made her mentally deteriorated. This made her return to Japan after a successful stint in the United States.

Her trademark motifs of polka dots combined with mirrors were first presented in the 1965 installation, Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field. The installation was created with four mirrored walls and a mirrored ceiling which infinitely reflected the polka dots covering the floor. The illusion of infinite space within a confined area was recreated by the repetitive and reproductive objects – lights and mirror – of her 1963 installation. The polka dots, which Kusama, described as ‘self-obliteration’, had been established as a strategy by the late 1960s. Polka dots became a significant feature of her ‘happenings’ and performances of the period, which smeared onto the participants and symbolically neutralised the ego. Some of her irreverent yet significant works are Accumulation No. 1. (1962), Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli’s Field (Floor Show) (1965/2016), Walking Piece (1966), Kusama’s Self-Obliteration (1967), Infinity Net (1979) and Pumpkin (2010).

Yayoi Kusama And Her Obsession With Polka Dots

While being famed all over the world, she also earned a bad reputation for herself in her homeland, Japan. Her act of going naked in New York in 1960s to protest against the Vietnam War, created quite a buzz, especially among the conservative Japanese society. She was widely misunderstood and got labelled as the “Queen of Scandals” by the mainstream media in Japan. She stood strong against the war of any kind and did artworks to propagate the message of universal love. Most of her works reflect her sincerity and pure intentions to influence the world positively. Her message, she conveyed through her works, soon transformed her image as a “streaker” to one of the most admired artists of the century.

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