The Princess of Polka Dots
Yayoi Kusama, who was born in 1929, is one of the most remarkable artists of our time. Including many disciplines like paintings, sculptures and installations; her art can be defined as a part of minimalist, feminist, contemporary, and pop art. Although all artists have their unique styles, Kusama’s artistic style becomes her signature made out of dots and nets, standing out among others. As the Princess of Polka Dots, Kusama, unites people all around the world and displays that we are all similar parts of a whole.
Growing up in Japan-Matsumoto, Kusama was always interested in art and her dream was to be an artist. However, there weren’t many women artists she could look up to in Japan at the time. Also, she had a traditional family that wanted her to become a housewife when she grew up. Her abusive mother would take away her canvases when Kusama wanted to paint. Moreover, her father was disloyal to his family. The problems in her family affected her mental health. But Kusama was determined, none of these was enough to stop her creativity. Since her family owned a seed nursery, growing and selling flowers, Kusama spent a lot of her time in the nursery, surrounded by flowers. The hallucinations she had when she was almost 10, are the roots of her artistic style. Her hallucinations included sparkling lights, speaking flowers, and dots. She was wandering about the endless flower fields in which every flower turned into living dots.
After her hallucinations, Kusama sketched countless dots and in every dot, she found herself. It calmed her and made her feel united with her surroundings and other people. She felt like she was scattered into little dots and become a part of a bigger dot. She defines this experience as ‘’self-obliterating’’. ‘’Polka dots can't stay alone. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environments.’’ -Yayoi Kusama
In the following years of her life, Kusama got inspired by an artist from America, Georgia O’Keeffe. She wrote a letter to Georgia and attached some of her own paintings. Georgia’s supportive reply to the letter, made Kusama realize the opportunities she could have in America. She says ‘’If Georgia had not answered my letter, I’m not sure I would ever have made it to America. It was because of her that I was able to go to the USA and begin my artist carrier in earnest.’’ At the age of 27, Kusama started a new chapter of her life, the journey of being a famous artist. She packed her paintings and flew to the USA. This was the beginning of her freedom. Away from her oppressive parents, Kusama was able to spend all her time on her art. She put polka dots on anything and everything: giant canvases, walls, people’s bodies, a horse…
With the suggestion of Georgia O’Keeffe, who became her consultant, Kusama opened her art studio in New York. Her ‘’Narcissus Garden’’, ‘’Infinity Mirrored Room’’ and ‘’Fireflies on the Water’’ are some of her artworks that represent her view of the world. ''Fireflies on the Water’’ consists of a small, dark room with mirror-covered walls and little lights all over the room. It creates a space-like atmosphere and represents Kusama’s hallucinations. Through her art, Kusama makes it possible for us to experience the ‘’self-obliterating’’ effect of dots.
According to Kusama, dots symbolize the eternity of the universe. People come together and form a single dot, the Earth. She says ‘’With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved. In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars. All of us live in the unfathomable mystery and infinitude of the universe. Pursuing 'philosophy of the universe' through art under such circumstances has led me to what I call 'stereotypical repetition’’.