PROVO, Utah (November 23, 2020)—Mirrors, lights, and of course, the famous polka dots. The work of 91-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has inspired millions to break away from the norms of art and society, and to embrace the person within.
Kusama's work famously incorporates walls of mirrors and bright designs to create a world of endless beauty. These "infinity rooms" allow viewers to get lost in Kusama's mind.
Growing up in Japan, Kusama experienced hallucinations, and she frequently saw the world covered in fields of polka dots. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and anxiety.
Kusama often referred to her art as therapy, calling it "art-medicine." Kusama uses these hallucinations as inspiration for her art, letting people experience how she often sees the world.
"I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day," Kusama once said, "and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art."
Kusama's work redefined pop art and minimalism, but she often faced discrimination, which made it difficult to move up in the art world. After moving to New York in 1958, Kusama faced racism stemming from post-World War II attitudes toward Japan.
Being a woman also posed challenges. Kusama's unique style inspired artists like Claes Oldenburg, Lucas Samaras, and Andy Warhol, who produced art that resembled or even copied Kusama's mirror room concept without acknowledging Kusama.
Still, Kusama soldiered on with her work. She once said, "Polka-dots can't stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka-dots become movement "Polka-dots are a way to infinity."
Heather Belnap, associate professor of art history commented, "The concept of self-obliteration is critical to Kusama's art as both a rationale and a process. Kusama uses repetitive patterns such as polka dots or nets to relinquish her own identity and become one with the universe, and her art encourages us to do the same. When you step into one of her infinity mirror rooms, you join Kusama in this state."
Kusama moved back to Japan in 1973. By her own choice, she currently lives in a psychiatric hospital so that she can focus solely on her art. Her work has inspired millions to see beauty the simplest of things, despite challenges and setbacks that arise.
This article appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Humanities alumni magazine.
—Molly Ogden Welch (Communications' 22)