For the past few decades, Yayoi Kusama work has become some of the most distinguishable art in the world. If you are not a self-proclaimed art lover – or even have any knowledge, chances are you have seen Kusama work at least once. The polka dots, pumpkins and infinity mirrors are some of the most distinguishable pieces exploring concepts of minimalism, surrealism, pop art and feminism. Attracting millions of visitors to view her work, the 89-year-old is widely regarded as one of the most important living Japanese artists and one of the most recognisable individuals of the contemporary era, with works spanning over the sculpture, installations, painting, fashion, film and many more.
The film, Kusama – Infinity, released by Mongolia Pictures, paints a picture of Kusama life growing up, from the trauma of growing up in Japan during World War II, to the sexism and discrimination she encountered in a white male-dominated field. But Kusama’s trauma dates to her childhood. Her mother, unsupportive of her work, physically and verbally abusive, would often throw her work away, in pursuit of hopes of Kusama, marrying and living a more traditional life. Her father adultery brewed her contempt for sexuality. Her mother would often send her to spy on her father’s affairs. “I don’t like sex. I had an obsession with sex. When I was a child, my father had lovers and I experienced seeing him. My mother sent me to spy on him. I didn’t want to have sex with anyone for years”
At the age of 10, Kusama began experiencing hallucinations, flashes of lights, dots, with her hallucinations often speaking to her. She began using watercolours, pastels and oils, to free the thoughts in her head, focusing her fixation on a canvas, painting polka dots and repeated motifs. Despite efforts to warn her of the difficulties of making it as a young artist- much less a young Japanese woman, Kusama left Japan for Seattle, where she exhibited several paintings. After a year, she moved on to New York City. She found herself stressed and in poverty, always overworking. For decades, Kusama suffered from neurosis, attempting to take her life several times. When she returned to Japan in 1973, broke and interest in her art waning, she voluntarily checked herself into a psychiatric asylum, where she still lives, working from her studio located opposite the hospital. It was in 1989, that a gradual revival in the interest of her work when the Centre of International Contemporary Arts New York displayed a retrospective of her work. In 1993, she displayed her art at the Venice Biennale, 27 years after Japan had refused to let her present her work, where she filled a room with mirrored room with pumpkins.
The film, however, does not mull too much into the hardships of Kusama’s life. For decades, the world has been privileged to get a reflection of the intimate universe of polka dots and bright colours that are in her head. Her journey of transforming her trauma into art will be a familiar and inspiring story to all.
“I hope that it can make the world more peaceful”