Artist Spotlight: Yayoi Kusama Uses Art as Therapy

Dubai’s Art Week events extended to movie art house Cinema Akil, where the documentary, Kusama: Infinity, about Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, was shown. The documentary showed her life journey as an internationally acclaimed artist who kept working and creating despite the turmoil she endured.

Yayoi Kusama’s art doesn’t fall under one category, instead it combines elements of minimalism, contemporary, pop, and feminist art, and is usually displayed in the form of sculpture and installations. Her work is mostly known for her fascination for polka dots.

Born into a conservative family in Matsumoto, Japan, in 1929, Kusama was drawn into the art of expression through visual art from the age of ten. Although, it was not easy; Kusama endured heavy trauma in her early life. Her mother was not supportive with her desire to create art, and would snatch her drawings before she was able to complete them.

The waves of negativity prompted her to desire to escape from Japan, and asked the advice of Georgia O’Keefe, a famous American artist, by writing her a letter. Surprisingly, O’Keefe replied to Kusama telling her that making a living in the U.S. as an artist is difficult, but she should come anyway — and so, she did.

Kusama moved to New York in 1958, at the age of twenty-seven, and as she had been told, the aspiring artist struggled with more than just her mother’s disapproval. As many other industries at the time, the art world was dominated by men; exhibitors refused to display women’s works, and men would copy her ideas.

“I carried a canvas taller than myself forty blocks through the streets of Manhattan to submit it for consideration at the Whitney Annual. My painting was not selected and I had to carry it 40 blocks back again,” Kusama said in her autobiography, Infinity Net.

Kusama created the world’s first “mirror room,” in 1965, displayed at the Castellane Gallery in New York. Only a few months later, artist Lucas Samaras exhibited his mirror installation at Pace Gallery, a far more prestigious location.  

Rejection after rejection, Kusama felt overwhelmed and attempted suicide, but was given another chance at life.

Although she continued to face challenges, Kusama’s art prevailed, and she has become the world’s biggest-selling female artist, and has won numerous prestigious, international awards. Masquer le message d’origine

One of her most famous works of art is her Infinity Room, which uses mirrors and lights to create a surreal-like illusion of an infinite room.

Now at 90 years old, Kusama lives in Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Japan, in which she has voluntarily lived for the past 41 years. Rather than allowing her mental health conditions overtake her, she channels her energy into producing art as a hobby, but also as a form of therapy.

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Sufanah Hammad

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