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Yayoi Kusama on the Fierceness of Living

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Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama Courtesy of Yayoi Kusama

In support of national #TimeToTalk day, we revisit a poem by Yayoi Kusama in which she discusses her mental health difficulties and how she has come to terms with them

Today is national #TimeToTalk day, an initiative led by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness with the aim of "starting conversations about mental health, raising awareness and sharing the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is talking about it." In support, we revisit a poem by Yayoi Kusama – published in AnOther Magazine S/S12 – in which she discusses the difficulties she has experienced as a result of mental health problems, and her determination to keep going and live life to the full in spite of them. The poem was written in celebration of her acclaimed Tate retrospective which opened in February 2012.

In the Midst of Adolescence

Now is the time in my life
that has been filled with aspirations
over many long years
that I shake off the anguish of my heart and
send my lofty aspirations high up into the sky till
they reach the end of the universe
This fierceness of living
through joys and sorrows of life
sometimes distressed and sometimes
comforted by a joy
Agonising over the undulation of life and
moved to tears at the weight of life
I want to keep living until the last days of my life

Yayoi Kusama creates amorphous sculptures in bright primary colours covered in dots. They are the woozy creations of an obsessive compulsive, who tries to relieve her mental suffering through art. Born in Matsumoto city in 1929, into a traditional Japanese family, Kusama had a difficult childhood. She suffered from frightening hallucinations and the experiences found their way into her work in soft protrusions obliterated in black spots. After leaving Japan for New York in the late 1950s, she started a studio associated with Andy Warhol’s Factory, creating installations and staging live performances where she would read her poetry. With the explosion of pop art, and its attendant drug culture, critics were keen to liken her ravaged dots to the effects of an acid trip. In spite of her complex personality, which has seen her in and out of mental hospitals all her life, Kusama has continued to make work tirelessly for six decades, thrilling viewers with the terrifying wonderland she calls “Kusama world”. Of her art she says, “I want to make my thoughts, philosophies and lifelong messages shine to reach the ends of the universe.”

Original text by Jessica Lack for AnOther Magazine S/S12

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