top of page

Mental Illness Turned Art

by Sabrina Weiss

Photo courtesy of ICA Boston

Yayoi Kusama, 90, is regarded as one of the most influential contemporary Japanese artists. Her impressive and immersive artwork showcases floor-to-ceiling polka-dotted tentacles or mirrored walls with hundreds of light fixtures. Kusama’s artwork appears otherworldly, and the immersive elements allow observers to be transported into her fantasy.

Her work garners huge crowds and attention, as seen with tickets for the upcoming “Love Is Calling” and “Beyond Infinity: Contemporary Art after Kusama” ICA exhibits being sold out until October 31. The next round of tickets will be released on October 15 to the general public. Ellen Buchanan (CAS ’21) found her other exhibit, “Infinity Mirrors,” which she visited in Atlanta earlier this year, attracting a similar level of attention.

“I was surprised that I didn’t know a lot about her, because I have an art background. It was a very cool exhibit, it is a new form of art, and it’s a very difficult medium to deal with,” Buchanan said.

But, some of Kusama’s fame dilutes into Instagram-friendly content. Much of Kusama’s popularity stems from the uniquely immersive and bold work, which many viewers photograph and post on social media.

“Her work is exciting, but I had just already seen it all over Instagram,” Buchanan said. “So, I was so much less impressed with it, because it had already been on my phone. It gets significantly less remarkable when you see it on a screen.”

The expansive and eccentric artwork creates beautiful photos, but ruin any of the suspense and private nature of seeing the exhibit in person. In addition, the aesthetic nature of the artwork distracts people from the deeper messages of Kusama’s work.

It is important for viewers to understand Kusama’s struggles as they walk through, or snap pictures, of her work. The artist showed signs of psychosis and hallucinations as a child during World War II and struggled with mental illness all of her life. Throughout her successful career, Kusama’s mental health deteriorated and resulted in numerous hospitalizations and her current residence at a psychiatric institution in Japan. Her past exhibits cite her struggles with mental illness on the plaques on the gallery walls. Be sure to take in Kusama’s immense work while also reading about the important implications and portrayals of mental illness in her work.

Hurry to reserve your spot for Kusama’s ICA exhibits and dare to keep your phone in your pocket and research her interesting, dark life. The artwork warrants popularity based on the impressive design, but Kusama’s life and meaning to her artwork deserves to be recognized.

bottom of page