A polka-dot has the form of the sun which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life...

This, said by artist Yayoi Kusama, only hits at her obsession with repetition. Her ability to attach meaning to a simple "dot" is intriguing and unique. Kusama believes polka-dots create "movement." Her use of repetition enhances the boldness of these polka-dotted pieces.

Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Nagano, Japan. As a child, she began having hallucinations. Because Kusama was not understood, her home life was abusive. Her mother would lock her in a storehouse without food for half a day. Through this abuse, Kusama began to draw. As Kusama grew older, she attempted to get involved with Nagano's art community, but was ostracized due to her mental illness. Eventually, after corresponding with hero, Georgia O'Keeffe, Kusama moved to New York City. Living in NYC proved to be difficult. While the twenty-seven year old was from a wealthy family in Japan, she was completely broke in the United States. Within eighteen months, however, through exhaustive self-promotion, Kusama gained notoriety. Aside from her solo exhibitions, she would stage "Happenings" in the latter 1960s. These events consisted of four naked models with polka-dots placed on their bodies, while Kusama acted as the "ring leader." These happenings were  formed to protest the Vietnam war. Because Kusama chose to utilize public spaces (Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, NY Stock Exchange, Rockefeller Gardens), she was immediately placed into the New York City art scene. She has said that her art was often made during her hallucinations.


At times childlike, Kusama's art also utilizes sexuality and the body. Her well known series, entitled "Accumulation," consisted of sculpture and installation pieces that incorporated phallic-looking stuffed fabric. When asked about this, she stated, "I am afraid of them. It's a 'sex obsession.'" Kusama evidently conquered her fears of the phallic by confronting said fears. One can assume that the way in which Kusama processes her fears can also be applied to her obsession with polka-dots. She states that her obsession came from a hallucination she had at the age of ten:

...looking at a red flower-patterned table cloth on the table, I turned my eyes to the ceiling and saw the same red flower pattern everywhere... The room, my body, the entire universe was filled with it, my self was eliminated... If I did not get away from there, I would be wrapped up in the spell of the red flowers and lose my life. I ran for the stairs... I sprained my leg.

Kusama's fear of dots is most obvious by the title of her performance piece, "Self-Obliteration by Dots." To obliterate oneself is to erase. This was a lifelong fear of Kusama's--to be erased by dots. After this piece, Kusama produced and starred in the film, "Kusama's Self-Obliteration." This film won her second place at the Ann Arbor Film Festival.

During all of her success, Kusama was still dealing with her mental illness. After the death of a close friend, she moved herself back to Japan and entered a psychiatric hospital. She lived in the facility for twenty years. While institutionalized, Kusama continued to make art in her studio just down the road from the hospital.

At the age of eighty-two, Kusama continues to exhibit her art throughout the world. In 2008, Christies New York sold one of her pieces for $5.1 million--a record for a living female artist.


No more ostracism for the girl obsessed with polka-dots.