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Suicide and despair in Yayoi Kusama’s art

Yayoi Kusama and her nightmarish "I Dreamed a Dream" exhibition


Octogenarian artist Yayoi Kusama, staged an exhibition “A Dream I Dreamed” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, from December, 15, 2013- March 30, 2014. Kusama was born in Japan in 1929 in the city of Matsumoto,  Nagano Prefecture, but her work really took-off in New York.  Kusama is very much a jack-of-all trades: a successful novelist with 13 published novels and volumes of  poetry, a film producer, director and actress, as well as a prominent artist having had numerous shows and installations all over the world.


“My Eternal Soul” and “Love Forever” series, MoCA Shanghai

Kusama’s art comes from her dark and tormented soul. Once dubbed the Princess of Polka Dots, she allows her work to express her scariest childhood fears and nightmares. Though born into a wealthy Japanese family, her childhood was far from happy.  Her parents were cruel to her and frequently beat her, and even destroyed the canvases she painted. All of which fostered Kusama’s urge to create her own world: a world full of polka dots, nets, phallic symbols and nudity. She says that, for her, art is a cure.  Like  many artists, she has long suffered from depression and mental disorders, and  in 1975 she was hospitalized in a mental hospital in Tokyo where she has resided ever since.

In one of her interviews she commented on her art:

“My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.”


“Ladder to Heaven”. The Ladder reflects in both mirrors on the ceiling and on the floor, expanding endlesslym, MoCA Shanghai

One of her most astonishing works was  originally included in the show “I Who Have Arrived In Heaven”, an exhibition in New York. The installation “Infinity Mirrored Room” is a bedroom-sized room lit-up with colorful LED crystal balls, with walls covered in mirrors and a shallow water pool on the floor with a small peninsula to observe this imaginary view. All this is captured to dramatic, discombobulating effect. The viewer feels trapped with no walls, and becomes a mere  reflection caught in glittering lights and water.


“Infinity Mirrored Room”, MoCA Shanghai

In a DIY room intended mostly for entertaining children, round colorful stickers smother the entrance, an opportunity for viewers to participate in the art process.


“Obliteration Room”, MoCA Shanghai

An ode to obliteration and the infinite nature of the universe: her work heralds a cry to be free from fear, and a longing for self-expression in hidden language: a language of polka dots, colors, and nets. Her art is her life, and she is as dramatic as an artist can possibly be:  “Without art, I would commit suicide”, said the 84-year-old in a recent interview.


“Repetitive-Vision, Phallus-Boat”, MoCA Shanghai

Master Image courtesy of Weibo

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