Yayoi Kusama, 1939 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

Full Name: Yayoi Kusama

Birth Date: 22 March 1929 

Death Date (if known): Still Living as of March 2023

Location: Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan

Monument Type: Historic/Residence

“Great minds think alike!” A relatively common expression found in various languages across the globe, but despite its prevalence, it is not always true. Artist Yayoi Kusama is an extraordinary person with some extraordinary ideas, but from a very young age, there seemed to be very few things about her that were “like” other people. Born to a middle-class family in Matsumoto Japan in 1929, her parents Shigeru and Kamon owned a plant nursery, a place in which young Yayoi would spend much of her time throughout her childhood.

Surrounded by botany, by the age of five Yayoi began drawing the plants that she found interesting within her parent’s nursery. Days passed when Yayoi would do nothing but draw, and while this is normal for many children, for Yayoi it eventually turned into a coping mechanism for something much deeper. Yayoi did not have a name for it,  but she began seeing things in the world around her—things that were not actually there. At age ten, he began to hallucinate talking flowers, pumpkins, and dots floating all around; every day, normal activities became disrupted by these images. In response, Yayoi drew, but her parents reacted with fear and anger. In an interview given for ArtSpace.com, when asked about her mother’s response to these hallucinations she said,  “she hit me, smacked me, for she thought I was saying crazy things…she had no knowledge of children’s mental illness”. 

For years, Yayoi’s parents mistreated her for her mental illness, and she struggled with it in silence, using art as an escape. At thirteen, world war two began, and the government enlisted Yayoi in the sewing of parachutes for the Japanese army. She spent many years in the confined darkness of factories and industrial spaces and found little solace in the few hours of free time she had outside of the grueling labor. At age nineteen, she began attending the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where she was able to learn how to channel her life experiences into her work. 

Soon after graduation, she moved to the United States in an effort to grow her artistic talent there. She created elaborate exhibitions featuring dots, and her most famous pieces incorporate pumpkins, too. Her art has since been featured in various museums across the globe, and even as she has grown older she continues to attribute her unique style to the experiences of her childhood. As of 2023, she continues to release new works, and even collaborated with Louis Vuitton for their Spring 2023 collection; models walked down the runway adorned in dots and various patterns. Yayoi’s childhood was like no other, and she certainly grew up grappling with  unusual circumstances inside and outside of herself, but because of that adversity, she can create art uniquely hers. Yayoi Kusama was not like anyone else, and that made her extraordinary.


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