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KULALA Weekends: Inside Yayoi Kusama’s “Life Is The Heart Of The Rainbow”

Polka dots, pumpkins and infinity mirrors – but still so much more than an Instagrammable artist.
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It’s not difficult to understand why Yayoi Kusama’s work is ragingly popular, spawning numerous exhibitions the world over including the recent “Life Is The Heart of The Rainbow” in Singapore’s National Gallery. Though dark in origin – Kusama’s fascination with repetition is the result of lifelong hallucinations and obsessive-compulsive disorder – her signature polka dots and pumpkins have evolved into something akin to Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. You go into her bright spaces and come out feeling slightly whimsical, dizzy and amused.

The first time I truly paid attention to Kusama’s work was a couple of years ago when I had to conduct research for a piece I was writing for a magazine. (Kusama is famously elusive, so my interview request was unsurprisingly rejected by her staff at Kusama Enterprise. There’s no harm in trying, right? They did very kindly offer to provide pictures. I went ahead and wrote the piece anyway.)

I pitched the story partly because the month’s theme was “Asia” and Kusama is undoubtedly the region’s most recognised pop artist, but largely because I honestly wanted to know what was her deal. The polka dots are fun, but is there anything “to get” in the first place? Is it all just fodder for Instagram? I needed an excuse to “get it”.

Several short films and interviews later, something clicked. (I highly recommend that you read this interview Kusama did with BOMB Magazine almost two decades ago.) Look, I’m no art critic. I’m the sort who goes into a modern art museum and tries very hard to look like I know something. But, you know, I sort of finally understood what was going on. There’s the bit about how all of us are dots in the universe, which is very true. But beyond the dots, phalluses, nude showcases of her younger days, giant flowers and metal balls, here’s an artist that took something that would be so dark and traumatic for most, and turned it into her relief and salvation. It’s poetic, but also oddly beautiful. (Kusama once defined beauty as her very self in an interview with WWD.)

So, the next time you’re at one of her exhibitions, go ahead and snag a couple of ‘grams. Kusama’s all about spreading healing and harmony with her work, so she probably welcomes all your “Infinity Mirror Room” selfies with open arms. But while you’re at it, don’t forget to take a minute to read about how it all came to be. See our favourite moments from “Life Is The Heart of The Rainbow” above.

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