Kusama would bounce into the 1960s RAT office in New York with a mixture of timidity and bravado. She was years from being famous, but persevered promoting her art happenings – usually naked – at landmarks like the Statue of Liberty.
I didn’t understand her, but liked her and the idea that she was staging her sometimes outrageous happenings in public places. Human flesh and nudity, bared and dancing in front of behemoths like the Dow chemical building is street art, contrasting frail bodies against the machine. Kusama was political in the deepest way.
I was also attracted to Kusama’s bravery. I couldn’t imagine myself in Tokyo trying to navigate a strange language and fighting with a thousand other artists for a bit of media recognition. We talked a bit about Japan where I had lived, but we didn’t bond over the artistry of Shinto shrines or even the varieties of sake. Her manner was polite and persistent, single minded on her artistic path.
She took kidding well. “Kusama, are you going to be naked at the next happening?”
She would demur and say something like, “That’s for the performers.”
“Kusama. For this to be a genuine revolutionary event, everyone should be naked. The director needs to be naked too.”
Click on Image to See A Short Film on Kusama
Kusama wouldn’t blush, but say something obscure like she was observing nudity as a portal into another dimension. I learned from friends who visited her nearby loft that Kusama, on one level, used nude art happening as an exploration of her own feelings of sexual solitude and vulnerability.
She later painted what might be called polka dots on her nude dancers. But where others saw polka dots Kusama saw black holes, interstellar voids in consciousness, wormholes in space and time – maybe she was showing up in an alternate universe?
It guess it took something as edgy as RAT, where work rather than a resume is what counted. RAT embraced Kusama’s art happenings, and became her first venue for New York publicity.
In 1998, Kusama returned to Tokyo and checked herself into a mental hospital where she’s lived ever since. Each morning she arises, walks to her art studio a few blocks away, puts in a full working day, and then returns to the hospital, where she could feel safe, in the evening. Kusama’s life inspired me for more than her artistic accomplishments. Where others would take similar mental kinks and use them as an excuse to be nonproductive, Kusama heroically arranged her life so she could function at the highest level.
Jeffrey Nightbyrd Shero © 2016
Jeff Nightbyrd Shero and Michael Eakin organized and edited the original Austin Sun.