Posts tagged with "history"

Cayden Mak's Keynote

This summer I had the privilege of being able to spend some time with a group of Civil Rights Era veterans—folks who were Freedom Riders, organizers with the

This summer I had the privilege of being able to spend some time with a group of Civil Rights Era veterans—folks who were Freedom Riders, organizers with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, people who in a big way I feel like are movement elders. I was in North Carolina for Moral Monday and we had a great national convening of the collective called the Freedom Side that coincided with the march. It was amazing to feel like a part of that energy and experience this amazing historical through-line from the Civil Rights Era to the present, seeing the parallels in the moment we are in.

One of the questions that we asked the SNCC veterans was: did you really feel like when you were organizing, you were in a magical time? And their answer was definitively yes. I think it makes sense for us to trust our instincts when it comes to the importance of our moment. It’s crucial to take it seriously.

And it is serious. It’s serious as the racist police and vigilante violence that’s been raised to a national conversation. It’s as serious as Citizens United and the fact that corporations have the same rights to free speech as you and I. It’s as serious as the unaddressed climate crisis. It’s as serious as the systematic dismantling of our rights under the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the attempt to declaw net neutrality rules, and the undermining of democracy and the public good across the country, whether it’s emergency management in Detroit or the explosion of the private prison industry.

You’re probably thinking, oh my god, how is this at all a magical time?

The thing that makes this a magical time is that across the country, around the world, people are responding to this as a call to action.

The thing that really makes this a magical time is an explosion of organizing. I’m thinking of the groundswell that started after Trayvon Martin was killed, boiled into a fury after George Zimmerman was acquitted and as the Dream Defenders occupied the Florida state capitol for thirty days, that’s gained momentum in the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and Rekia Boyd. Or the movement for a living wage in fast food and home care work. Or that ordinary people are coming up with solutions to seemingly intractable problems by banding together, from Occupy Sandy to the Detroit Water Brigade. Or the fact we have emerging electeds and hopefuls who are willing to push the envelope, from Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu’s rejection of the New York State political machine to Kshama Sawant’s inspiring third-party victory in her race for Seattle City Council. That longstanding gatherings like the Allied Media Conference are bearing visionary fruit in art, music, literature, and technology.

I’m also thinking about small, everyday things. The fact that as communities respond to racist police violence they’re asking questions about why police and prisons are the only options we have to address crisis in our communities. That we’re starting to get real about the effects of intergenerational trauma on our bodies and our minds. That movement leaders are stepping up to accept critique and change the way they do their work to center the historically marginalized. And we’re more connected than ever before. We’re stronger and smarter and faster because of the internet, for all its limitations.

So when you look past the problems and let your eyes adjust to the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s easy to start seeing the magic. When we asked the SNCC veterans whether they knew their time was magical, they answered yes with a sparkle in their eyes. They knew exactly why we were asking. To be young and doing organizing in America today is to feel simultaneously a powerful optimism about our capacity to change as well as a profound fear about what’s at stake.

The death of Michael Brown and the subsequent repression of protest and the press in Ferguson has meant all eyes are there, but we must look with minds ready to learn. If Ferguson teaches anything, it’s that we have a long way to go against incredible odds. Some of the challenge is about the hurt we all carry inside of ourselves. Said the organizers in Ferguson some three weeks ago:

We are striving for a world where we deal with harm in our communities through healing, love, and kinship. This means an end to state sponsored violence, including the excessive use of force by law enforcement. We are committed to an America that comes to terms with the trauma of its painful history and finds true reconciliation for it. Mass incarceration and the over criminalization of black and brown people must forever end, leaving in its place a culture that embraces our histories and stories. This means an end to racial bias and white supremacy in all its forms.

Our dreams are directly linked with those resisting militarism, war, and state repression around the world. We will achieve this new beloved community hand in hand, step by step, in global solidarity with all people committed to lasting peace and full justice.

My heart is encouraged by words like these. We are learning how to be visionaries in public again.

In Grace Lee’s documentary about the unparalleled Grace Lee Boggs, Boggs says that she thinks that too many organizers emphasize action over reflection, but that action and reflection go hand in hand. I want to take a moment from this heart-thumping action to talk about us–and I mean the us in this room, Asian Americans from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, who care about the future of our country.

I want to echo the words of Soya Jung, a senior partner at Changelab and someone who has been a major star in a constellation that has guided me in my work over the past year or so full-time at 18MillionRising. In her essay “Why Ferguson matters to Asian Americans,” she writes that often, as Asian Americans, we find ourselves pulled toward two different sides of the what she terms “the color line,” that divide in the United States that separates white hegemony from historical Black disempowerment. This is the work of the model minority myth, this idea that somehow, as industrious, quiet, obedient Asians, we are the minorities and immigrants who made good on the promise of the American Dream and pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.

The reality, as we know, is much more complex. A combination of immigration policy, popular culture representations of Asians and Asian Americans, and the invisibility of Asian bodies and lives, like attacks in the past and the present from Vincent Chin to Sandeep Singh, all contribute to the perpetuation of this myth. Even as South Asian American communities experience heightened surveillance, Southeast Asian American communities experience some of the highest poverty rates in the U.S., or that nearly a ten percent of undocumented immigrants are Asian, and many of our communities across the spectrum grapple with the afterimages of war, violent revolution, and genocide, this myth persists.

Jung writes that the model minority myth is a major buttress to the everyday violence that the Black community is subject to: it is held up against the assumption of Black criminality as evidence of the failure of the Black community, of Black culture. As we engage in the struggle to find justice, we must call the model minority myth out for what it is. We must find an Asian American identity that is rooted in values of community, healing, and anti-racism. We must not forget that, before we were Asian Americans, we were “orientals,” and we named ourselves Asian American as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other people of color during the heady days of the Black Liberation movement.

So I leave you with a challenge. In this magical time, we can stand on the sidelines, or we can roll up our sleeves and make magic happen. We can heed the clarion call of this upswell of organizing, but we must know that means making some tough choices. It means sticking our necks out. It means doing the hard work of developing our identities and healing ourselves as part of the praxis of dismantling racism, whether we’re at the ballot box or in the classroom, in our neighborhoods or at work, online or in the street.

As Jung writes, we have a choice to make about where we stand. I choose to embrace the infinite power of this magical time. I choose resistance. 

Bitter Fruits: On Ferguson and the Ghosts of the Philippine-American War

Heavy read, but necessary read.

In honor of this day of remembrance: April 17, 1975

Is the change I seek revolutionary? Is every revolution going to require bloodshed? When “The Revolution” comes will I be able to take my mother and father with me? And what about my children? The Revolution did come to us. On April 17, 1975 the revolution marched into Phnom Penh. It emptied out the city. Nearly every single family in Cambodia suffered losses during the time of the Khmer Rouge. An estimated 2 million Cambodians died. There is no exact body count.

I was too young to be recruited as a child soldier. In 1975, The People’s Revolutionary Party instead enlisted me in the fields where I would pick up cow dung. The unrelenting sun scorched my hair a shiny amber.1978 my mother almost died giving birth to my brother. There were no doctors or nurses in their commune. Professionals, intellectuals, former government officials, and religious figures were targeted for torture and execution. Kindness spared my father who would have otherwise been executed for being a teacher and a Muslim. The oppressive Khmer Rouge regime lasted 3 years, 8 months and 20 days. In 1979 when the borders reopened, my family was forced to leave Cambodia for the nearest Thai refugee camp. Survival is an instinct the body remembers well. On June 30, 1979, my family left the Thai camps for America. I do not need to have memories of violence to know that the experience of genocide has never left my body.

My parents never left me behind even when the Revolution left us with nothing. The change I seek has to include my family even if their politics differ from mine. The change I seek must be rooted in love. I believe that you can’t serve your people if you don’t love your people. Acts of violence can never be acts of love.”

- Artist and activist, Anida Yoeu Ali. Anida is also the producer of the award-winning documentary, Cambodian Son. It screens today at 3:30pm at East Bay Media Center in Berkeley, CA.

Help Asian Americans Reclaim our History in the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad!

This historic photograph captured the ceremony celebrating the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which united east and west coasts of this country by a land route for the first time; yet, the thousands of Chinese Americans who helped build the railroad were conspicuously absent. Photo credit: Wikipedia

On May 10th of this year, the transcontinental railroad will be 145 years old. On that day in 1869, track laid by Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad companies finally connected, and insodoing created a railway that spanned 1,928 miles. For the first time in American history, it was possible to travel from coast-to-coast without sailing around the North American continent.

It is estimated that as many as 12,000 Chinese American labourers helped build the transcontinental railroad, predominantly on the West Coast. Working for a fraction of the pay of their non-Asian White counterparts, Chinese “coolie” labourers were assigned some of the most dangerous tasks, including blasting away rocks that lay in the path of the track. Unknown numbers of Chinese American men lost their lives in the course of laying the railroad. This was in part because of ongoing anti-Asian racism among the work crews; White labourers viewed their Chinese American colleagues with disdain,calling them “midgets”, “effeminate” and “monkeys”. Nonetheless, Chinese American labourers participated in the construction of virtually every railroad track on the West coast built during that era.

Yet, when the railroad was completed on May 10th, 1869, an event commemorated in a historical photograph that showed actual railroad workers crowded around the final spike as it is hammered into the ground, Chinese American labourers were left out of the photograph. They were literally erased from history.

Every year on May 10th, that historic photograph is re-created by the park officials who maintain the national park commemorating the site of the Golden Spike ceremony. And every year, park officials refuse to make any specific effort to make the Asian American community visible in the photograph recreation.

Corky Lee has been documenting the Asian American Movement's protest actions and historic moments for over the last 40 years.

Corky Lee has been documenting the Asian American Movement’s protest actions and historic moments for over the last 40 years.

This year, acclaimed Asian American photographer and historian, Corky Lee — whose iconic black-and-white photographs have documented some of the most landmark moments in the political history of Asian America — is organizing a “flashmob” style event to correct the historic wrong of that 1869 Golden Spike Ceremony photograph.

On Saturday, May 10th at 9:30am, Corky is inviting Asian Americans to join him at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Tremonton, Utah (group transportation is being organized from Salt Lake City). He is hoping to get at least 145 Asian Americans to join him in recreating that historic photograph, but this time with the faces of Asian America front and center!

If you are 1) Asian American, and 2) able to get to Utah on May 10th, I urge you to please come out and help him in making this important project happen! Please help challenge the erasure of Asian Americans from the history of the transcontinental railroad.

Please join (and share)this Facebook Event page to help get the word out.

And, if you are able to make it to Utah on May 10th, please contact Ze Xiao (zxiao [at] slco [dot] org), who is coordinating transportation to the Golden Spike site for Corky’s photograph.

Facebook event here!

Apr 2

I think that Suey has displayed over the last year an unwillingness to discover the community. This, I think, has very little to do with her age, and everything to do with hubris. She arrived on the scene and believed she was the first, because she didn’t know the things she didn’t know. She doesn’t know who we are and what we have done, and further never expressed interest in finding out. I fundamentally believe she didn’t know who Michelle Malkin was, and had no idea about the internment book; it was published when she was 13.

It’s not that anyone needs to kiss the ring. You don’t have to like your elders or not want to forge a different path, but you should know of their existence. You should know the people who are around you, doing work in your vicinity. You should have the wherewithal to situate yourself in this thing that is larger than yourself. Most of us at some point did that, and we did it when we were Suey’s age.

There is a huge part of me that really wants to give Suey a benefit of a doubt. Still. Even after all this. Monday’s Colbert Report show was equal parts hysterical and horrifying to me; I would NOT want to be pilloried on national television at the age of 23 for doing something I might regret by the age of 33.

But I think ultimately Jeff is right. We all started in our early 20’s, and we all did it with the brashness and idealism of youth. It’s not that Suey is young, or queer, or a woman of colour. It’s that she has a very rigid idea of “how things should be”, and I just don’t think that’s conducive to community organizing.

There are some of her followers who are comparing Suey to Yuri Kochiyama for doing anti-blackness work. I don’t think the parallel could be farther off. Yuri and her contemporaries were about listening to people, and about trying to sow harmonic disagreement; basically, finding ways to bring people’s disparate identities towards common goals while still maintaining distinctiveness. I like to think that the AAM — which is the legacy we’re now maintaining, folks — is all about that message of finding momentary political harmony in dissonance. I like to think that under other circumstances, Suey would’ve found a home among us other bloggers. It’s sad to me that she rejected what could have been in favour of this hate-fueled rhetoric that seems to categorize people’s importance based solely on their -isms.


Anonymous Blogger

Y’all, I’ve held back from posting about Suey because of my own complicated former friendship with her. But I’ve seen too many people hurt and too much bullying and harassment to stay quiet. Here is some excellent commentary from one of my mentors that I wanted to share.

10 examples of #AAPI’s rich history of resistance | Reappropriate

Check out this awesome list of just 10 examples from our colorful and rich history of fighting back!

BOMB Magazine: Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room (Phalli’s Field), 1965, sewn stuffed fabric, mirrors, 360×360 x 324 cm. Installation, Floor Show, Castellane Gallery, New York.

Grady Turner There has been so much interest in your life story as a result of your retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Do you ever fear people may be interested in your biography at the expense of your art?

Yayoi Kusama No, I have no such fear. My artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease.

GT We are conducting this interview by fax because you live in a mental institution in Tokyo. Is it true you committed yourself?

YK I was hospitalized at the mental hospital in Tokyo in 1975 where I have resided ever since. I chose to live here on the advice of a psychiatrist. He suggested I paint pictures in the hospital while undergoing medical treatment. This happened after I had been traveling through Europe, staging my fashion shows in Rome, Paris, Belgium, and Germany.

GT Even though you are institutionalized, you are a prolific writer and artist. Where do you work?

YK I work at my condominium-turned-studio near the hospital as well as at a studio I’ve been renting for some years, which is just a few minutes walk from the hospital. I also created a large sculpture in the big yard of the hospital—a store-bought rowboat completely covered with stuffed canvas protuberances. I have made about 500 or 600 large sculptures so far.

GT Do you still work around the clock for days at a time, as you did in the 1960s? Or is your work routine different now?

YK I work very hard even now, but probably not as hard as I did when I was in New York.

GT You say your art is an expression of your mental illness. How so?

YK My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.

GT Let’s talk about your youth and the art you made before coming to New York. You were born in Matsumoto, a medium-sized city in central Japan, in 1929. The war did not greatly affect your family as Matsumoto was fairly isolated and your family was wealthy. Is that true?

YK Our house escaped damage during the war and our storehouse was full of foodstuffs so we had enough to eat, fortunately. Yes, my family is quite wealthy. They operate real estate and storage businesses. They also wholesale seeds harvested from the plants grown on their large farms. They have been in this business for some 100 years.

GT But still, your childhood was pretty horrific. Your descriptions of your mother are chilling.

YK My mother was a shrewd businesswoman, always horrendously busy at her work. I believe she contributed a great deal to the success of the family business. But she was extremely violent. She hated to see me painting, so she destroyed the canvases I was working on. I have been painting pictures since I was about ten years old when I first started seeing hallucinations.

I made them in huge quantities. Even before I started to paint, I was different from other children. My mother beat me and kicked me on the derriere every day, irritated that I was always painting. She forced me to help the employees, even when I had to study for my term exam. I was so exhausted that I felt very insecure at times.

My father, a womanizer, was often absent from home. He was a gentle-hearted person, but being married into my mother’s family and being always under my mother’s financial control, he did not have a place in the home. He must have felt that he had lost face completely.

My eldest brother was also against my painting pictures. All of my siblings told me to become a collector rather than a painter.

GT Given your family life, it is not surprising you were eager to leave home while still young. You went to Kyoto, where you enrolled in academic art classes. Was this your only formal training as an artist?

YK I went to Kyoto simply to flee from my mother’s violence. I rarely attended classes at the school there; I found the school too conservative and the instructors out of touch with the reality of the modern era. I was painting pictures in the dormitory instead of attending classes. Because my mother was so vehemently against my becoming an artist, I became emotionally unstable and suffered a nervous breakdown. It was around this time, or in my later teens, that I began to receive psychiatric treatment. By translating hallucinations and fear of hallucinations into paintings, I have been trying to cure my disease.

GT In 1951, you began to produce small works on paper in pastel, gouache, and ink, based on your hallucinations. Within a few years, you had created thousands of them. Then, furious with your mother, you destroyed most of them on a riverbank outside your family’s home. How did this come about?

YK When I left for New York, my mother gave me $1,000,000 yen and told me never to set foot in her house again. I destroyed several thousand pieces of work. I felt those early works would be a drag on me after I became determined to create better work in the United States. Now I regret very much that I destroyed them.

GT But you saved some 2,000 works, which you brought to New York. Why did you save these?

YK The pieces that I saved were all completed ones, similar to those I had sent to Kenneth and Georgia O’Keeffe. (When I first wrote to O’Keeffe for advice, she discouraged me from moving to New York. After I arrived in New York, though, she was very supportive of me, visiting me at my studio to see how I was doing, trying to find galleries that might be interested in my art and buyers of my work. She even invited me to stay at her place.) Those pieces I saved were excellent pieces that already showed some signs of dots and infinity nets.

GT Though small in size, these early works were vast in scale, as if you were attempting to capture the infinite.

YK Those small works reflect the great depth of my inner heart. They represent an assertion of denial, or a negative, while my white Infinity Nets are an expression of a positive.

GT In your novella Foxgloves of Central Park, the protagonist Shimako breaks down shortly after arriving in New York penniless and alone. Still, she has no intention of returning to Japan. Did you mean for your departure to be final?

YK Yes, I left Japan determined to live and die in the United States. I would not have had to return to Japan, even temporarily, if my Japanese doctor in New York had given me surgical treatment early enough. Now, without realizing it, I have been in this mental hospital for 20-some years. I live a peaceful life creating artwork.

Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration by Dots (detail), 1968, performance, documented with black-and-white photographs by Hal Reif.

GT When you arrived in New York, you were 29 years old. You spoke little English. You had a portfolio of drawings but no contacts in the art world. What were you hoping to accomplish?

YK When I arrived in New York, action painting was the rage, de Kooning, Pollock and others. I wanted to be completely detached from that and start a new art movement. I painted obsessional, monochromatic paintings from morning till night. They were huge paintings that had no composition like a 33-foot white infinity net painting. My only contact with the art world was John Gordon of the Brooklyn Museum. I owe so much to him. He invited me to participate in the “Watercolor Biennale” and helped me to sell my work by finding sponsors.

GT Within 18 months of your arrival, you had your first solo show. The walls of the gallery were hung with five huge canvases covered with white-on-white infinity nets. Meticulously painted brush strokes created a lattice almost invisible to the eye. The show was praised by critics including Dore Ashton and Donald Judd—you were even compared to Pollock. This first success must have been exciting.

YK I said to myself, I did it! I began associating with comrades who were also developing new types of paintings. I became friends with artists such as Eva Hesse and Donald Judd.

GT It is interesting Judd was so impressed with your work, as your paintings presaged the Minimalist aesthetics he later championed. Did you consider yourself a Minimalist?

YK I am an obsessional artist. People may call me otherwise, but I simply let them do as they please. I consider myself a heretic of the art world. I think only of myself when I make my artwork. Affected by the obsession that has been lodged in my body, I created pieces in quick succession for my new “-isms.”

GT With this first show, you established a balance between avant-garde aesthetics and the hallucinatory images that inspired you.

YK I ran all over the battlefield of art in New York that revolved rapidly like a swirl.

GT It was an infinity net painting that first introduced your art to Europe in 1960 as part of a group show alongside other artists working in monochrome, including Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni. You began corresponding with a number of European artists as a result.

YK The European reception to my work was truly great. The newspapers in Germany, Holland, and Belgium featured my work at the top of their front pages. In fact, the response was so overwhelming it incurred the complaints of the other artists who participated.

GT Looking at your 1960s work from the perspective of the 1990s, I’m most impressed by the diversity of media with which you worked: drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, installation art, etcetera. Mixing media was not as common then as it is today.

YK So many ideas were coming forth one after another in my mind that sometimes I had trouble knowing what to do with them. In addition to making painting, sculpture, and avant-garde fashion, I made a film called Kusama’s Self-Obliteration. I starred in, directed and produced it, and Jud Yalkut filmed one of my Happenings in Woodstock. I think I staged about 200 Happenings all over the place.

GT What is the meaning of “self-obliteration?”

YK By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe.

GT That film was a collage of images, like much of your work. Were you inspired by other collage artists? I understand Joseph Cornell was a mentor to you.

YK No, I was not inspired by any other collage artist, even by Cornell. Rather, I think he was inspired by me. Cornell was not a mentor to me; I was his lover for 10 years. Cornell is better known for his box pieces. My work is quite different from his, but I saw a number of his pieces that appeared to be influenced by my work.

GT In 1962, you created your first sculpture, Accumulation No. 1, in which an armchair frame was covered with stuffed, sewn protuberances. There was fringe at the base of the chair, and the entire sculpture was painted white. How did you come to make something so different from your previous work?

YK When I was struggling to earn my living, all my friends said, “Do action painting, then you can survive.” But I continued to make paintings that were the exact opposite. I painted infinity nets day after day, and while doing so, the whole room appeared to have been covered with nets. So I created pieces by covering sculptures with nets.

GT Inevitably, the stuffed shapes seem phallic. Did you intend this association?

YK My sofas, couches, dresses, and rowboats bristle with phalluses.

GT Why do you refer to these sculptures as “Compulsion Furniture?”

YK As an obsessional artist I fear everything I see. At one time, I dreaded everything I was making. The armchair thickly covered in phalluses was my psychosomatic work done when I had a fear of sexual vision.

GT Women’s clothes were also covered in protuberances and monochromatic paint.

YK I glued male sexual patterns on women’s clothes and sprayed them completely with silver paint. Initially, I used white paint, but began to use silver and gold sprays around 1963 as I found them to be more durable.

GT Did you wear these clothes in your Happenings?

YK Yes, I went shopping at a supermarket and strolled on the street wearing a dress and a hat decorated with phalluses. Artificial flowers were also attached to the outside and inside of a parasol. This was the precursor of my nude Happenings.

GT As with the Happenings, there are a number of collage photographs in which you include yourself with your Compulsion Furniture. The most famous may be the image of you posed nude on your couch (Accumulation No. 2) in imitation of a pin-up girl, covered in polka dots. Behind the couch are infinity nets paintings, the floor is strewn with pasta.

YK Polka dots symbolize disease. The couch bristled with phalluses. The macaroni-strewn floor symbolizes fear of sex and food, while the nets symbolize horror toward infinity of the universe. We can not live without the air.

GT Among so many domestic objects, your Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show in 1964 stood out.

YK The work was composed of a real rowboat covered with stuffed canvas protuberances, surrounded by 999 posters of the boat pasted on the ceiling, floor and walls of an entire room. After this show, repetition became a hot theme in New York.

GT The serial imagery seems similar to what Andy Warhol was beginning to do with his Flowers series, covering walls with an image repeated over and over.

YK Andy was a person who incorporated everything indiscriminately in his art as if he were running a wholesale business of imitations. Before he started doing his Flowers, he came to the opening of my One Thousand Boats Show and said with a stunned look on his face what a wonderful show it was.

Yayoi Kusama, Mirror Room (Pumpkin), 1991, mirrors, wood, papier mâché, paint, 200×200 x 200 cm. Collection, Hara Museum, Tokyo.

GT Involving the gallery walls in a sculpture exhibition was not very different from the installation art you would come to make. In 1965, you built a mirrored room and filled it with stuffed fabric shapes covered in polka dots, entitled Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, orFloor Show. That made actual the implied infinity of your drawings and paintings.

YK The original idea for this work dates back to my childhood. I was making paintings in small, medium, and large sizes then, without sleeping at night sometimes. Those paintings, 2 or 3,000 in total, were rapidly sublimated within myself and developed into sculptures. In other words, underlying the mirror room were my early paintings. To create an endless mirror room had been my long-cherished dream.

GT What did you think of Lucas Samaras’s mirrored rooms when you saw them two years later?

YK My reaction was, “He did it again.” I hope Lucas pursues the path of creativity and pain inherent in artists from now on, instead of following what Kusama has done.

GT For your retrospective, the Museum of Modern Art recreated examples of your art that are no longer extant, such as the mirror room. What was it like to see your lost art after three decades?

YK I am disappointed that more than half my artwork is no longer. Now I want to create greater artwork to leave behind for future generations.

GT You’ve been compared to Pop artists by those who detect a Pop Art sensibility in pieces like Airmail Stickers, in which you covered a large canvas with hundreds of red, white and blue airmail stickers. Did you feel any affinity with Pop?

YK Yes, I was in the vanguard of Pop Art, and regarded as a Pop artist by the people around me. I felt that America’s energy was trying to change its history. I was part of the movement.

GT While you did reasonably well as a young artist in New York, you were eclipsed by male artists whose work was similar—one thinks immediately of Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculptures and Samaras’s mirrored environments, not to mention Warhol’s serial images. How did their success affect you?

YK Those male artists were simply imitating my illness. I participated in a group show held at the Green Gallery in June 1962 with Robert Morris, Warhol, George Segal, James Rosenquist, and Oldenburg who I hold in high regard. Oldenburg showed a papier-maché sculpture then. The Green Gallery offered me a chance to hold a solo show in September of the same year, but unfortunately I had to decline due to lack of money. During that summer, Oldenburg was working fast to create soft sculptures similar to mine using machine-sewn forms. When I went to the opening of his solo show held at the Green Gallery the same year, his wife led me to his piece Calendar and said to the effect, “Yayoi, I am sorry we took your idea.” I was surprised to see the work almost identical to my sculpture.

GT You staged dozens of Happenings—what you called “Body Festivals”—in your studio and in public spaces around New York. Some were sites of authority, such as MoMA or Wall Street. Other sites, such as Tompkins Square Park and Washington Square Park, were associated with New York’s psychedelic hippie culture. What was your role in these?

YK I played the role of high priestess and painted the nude bodies of models on the stage with polka dots in five colors. When a Happening was staged at Times Square under my direction, a huge crowd flocked to it. I was never nude, publicly or privately. At the homosexual orgies I directed, I always stayed at a safe place with a manager in the studio to avoid being arrested by police. The studio would have been thrown into utter confusion if I were arrested. The police were primarily after a bribe. When I was arrested while directing a Happening in Wall Street and taken into police custody, they demanded that I pay them if I wanted to be set free. Bribes ranged from $400 to $1,000. Since I paid them every time I was arrested, my Happenings ended up as a good out-of-the-way place for them to make money.

GT Why were the performers nude?

YK Painting bodies with the patterns of Kusama’s hallucinations obliterated their individual selves and returned them to the infinite universe. This is magic.

GT Nudity was central to your work in those years: in addition to the Happenings, you opened a fashion boutique offering clothes you designed that were “nude, see-through, and mod.” The shop had private studios and nude models available for body painting or photographing. You also opened the Church of Self-Obliteration in a SoHo loft, appointing yourself the “High Priestess of Polka Dots” so you could officiate at a wedding of two gay men in 1968. You designed a large bridal gown that both men wore. How did you see your art in relation to the sexual revolution?

YK I have been tossed by the waves between rejection or a fusion with my own sex. I suppose everyone has. To get baptized at the Church of Self-Obliteration, people first have their bodies painted all over with polka dots by Kusama, then return to the root of their eternal soul. It is the moment of joy and of inheriting the vitality of an infinity.

Yayoi Kusama, Alice in Wonderland Happening, Alice in Wonderland statue, Central Park, New York, 1968.

GT In 1968, you began to refer to your Happenings as “Anatomic Explosions.” They were your most overtly political works. You appeared in public sites with four nude men and women covered in polka dots. At the New York Board of Elections, they posed with oversized masks of that year’s candidates for president—Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace—with a crumbled flag on the ground. What caused you to become concerned with politics?

YK I have been interested in politics since my childhood, probably because my grandfather was a politician. When I read a newspaper today, I first read its political column ahead of its cultural column.

GT It is a surprise, as your other art and writings seem apolitical—indeed, they are often intensely private.

YK I can only write about myself, but having searched the world around me, I have found that nothing is more intriguing than politics.

GT Why did you return to Japan in 1973?

YK I returned to Japan because of my deteriorated health. My Japanese doctor in New York failed to detect the illnesses from which I suffered. Upon returning to Japan, I received treatment for and recovered from the two diseases: Basedow’s disease and myoma of the uterus—not cancer of the uterus as rumored. Subsequently, I was hospitalized because of my obsessive-compulsive neurosis. In the articles written about me it is assumed that I voluntarily chose to live in the hospital; this is wrong. I am not suffering from manic-depressive psychosis, either.

GT You’ve said that your doctor regarded your art as good therapy. Has art therapy been part of your treatment at the hospital?

YK At the hospital there are art therapy programs such as calligraphy, karaoke singing, movie appreciation, and painting classes. Being the only professional artist in the hospital, I take no part in those activities.

Every day I create artwork either at a small place allotted me at the hospital or at my studio. At night I write novels. The novel Violet Obsession published recently has received favorable reviews. The other Violet Obsession, a collection of poems under the same title, has been translated into English together with The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street. Both are now available in the United States.

GT You’ve published thirteen books of fiction and poetry since returning to Japan. Are you now better known in Japan as a writer than as an artist?

YK I have many fans of my novels, but I am known as an artist in Japan because I have had a number of solo shows here and I represented Japan at the 1993 Venice Biennale. I am participating in the current São Paulo Biennale at its invitation with my white painting.

GT You left New York more than two decades ago, but much of your fiction is set here. Why?

YK There are novels set in Japan, such as Suicide at Sakuragaoka, Between Heaven and Earth, and a collection of poetry. But I find it easier to write about New York because I have a richer experience of it. For people like me, I must say, it is difficult to live in Japan, except inside the mental institution. I have but few friends.

GT In Japan, your writing is compared to that of Izumi Kyoka, a writer of mystic fiction who died in 1939. Was he an influence on your writing?

YK I am a fan of Izumi Kyoka, but he has no influence on my writing. I write in my own original style. I have written surrealist novels as well as conceptual art novels. I do not want the readers of my fictions to speculate that the heroines in them are Kusama.

GT Reading your work, I was struck by its use of repetition—you often restate details about characters, or retell parts of the narrative. This gives your fiction a kind of breathless quality, like you were compelled to write it all in one sitting.

YK Repetition of the same patterns, an action which stems from my disease, is applied in my writing just as it is in my artwork. Dreams and hallucinations are actually occurring. This obsessional image is what I have transformed my disease into, and is therefore, to me, irreplaceable.

GT There is an almost transcendental quality to your writing about such topics as prostitution, drugs, suicide, or madness. Do you see such intense states as transgressive of mundane life?

YK No, I don’t. I don’t think these things are anything special.

GT I ask because I understand that transgressive fiction appeals to many younger Japanese readers.

YK Living in Japan, I am realizing that so many trivial problems happen one after another and that I find myself desperately trying to protect myself from them.

GT Many of your characters are outsiders, detached from mainstream society: Henry, the prostitute-junky-turned-murderer, and his pimp, Yanni, in The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street. Shimako, who goes mad in Foxgloves of Central Park; and Masao, who makes love to the decaying corpse of his wife in Death Smell Acacia. Why are you drawn to outsiders?

YK I want to continue to write about the dark side of society since the bright side of society is written by famous conservative writers. I write about the shadow side of outsiders.

GT Your outsiders include gay men, but a lot of gay men would be bothered by your depiction of homosexuality—it seems depraved, desperate, pathetic. I’m thinking in particular of Robert Greenberg, the john who is murdered in Hustler’s Grotto.

YK In today’s world, gays are outsiders. That is why I try to remove society’s antipathy toward gays and change people’s views about outsiders in my writing.

GT Your recent work shown at New York’s Robert Miller Gallery continues the same motifs as the work you did in New York in the mid-1960s. How do you think your work has changed since returning to Japan?

YK I have been trying to give my work a structured look by combining various forms, as well as conducting chemical experiments using totally new materials to make the work permanently durable.

GT Have you done any Happenings since returning to Japan?

YK I have staged performances on the premises of temples in Tokyo. At one of the temples where there was a graveyard, I wrapped the surface of hard gravestones alternately with rolls of flimsy toilet paper. At another temple I threaded a vinyl pink cord around dozens of cherry trees in full bloom in a net fashion.

GT After years of relative neglect, your retrospective seems to have reasserted your place in the history of art of the 1960s. By painting your signature infinity net pattern on an icon of Western art like the Venus de Milo, as in your recent work, it seems you are also arguing for the importance of your art.

YK I will continue to create artwork as long as my passion keeps me doing so. I am deeply moved that so many people have been my fans. I have been grappling with art as a therapy for my disease, but I suppose I would not be able to know how people would evaluate my art until after I die. I create art for the healing of all mankind.

#RacistRager Part 2? Delta Kappa Epsilon throws "Vietnam Cocktail" party

Photos were posted this weekend on social media with various “Vietnam cocktail” captions showing students wearing straw hats, army gear and one person donning a Viet Cong flag at or before a fraternity party.

Since the photos were posted, some students have said the party’s theme was insensitive, while the fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, says the war was never an intended theme.

Aaron Bachenheimer, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Community Involvement, said he heard concerns about the event and contacted Stephano that night.

Bachenheimer said UNC cannot punish fraternities for party themes.

“Whenever we have an insensitive theme … we may engage with the national organization and they may choose to institute some appropriate sanctions depending on the issue,” he said.

Bachenheimer meets with chapter leaders twice a year to discuss party themes and potential consequences.

Shannon McKerlie, a sophomore at UNC who heard the party was Vietnam War-themed from a friend, said she was offended by students’ decisions to imitate Vietnamese people and wear Army garb.

“That was a bad part of our history that should be looked on in a more solemn way,” she said. “Any time you have people dress up as a certain ethnicity, it gets pretty racist pretty fast.”

Linda Vu, a senior sociology major who is Vietnamese, said some of the outfits at the party she saw on social media were an example of racism that happens all over the country.

“This might be cynical, but I’m not exactly surprised that something like that would happen,” she said.

“Sorry, I can’t really laugh at something that tore my family apart and that just changed the entire course of my family’s trajectory and people like me,” she said.

UPDATE: DKE at Chapel Hill is not nationally recognized. They had their charter pulled a while back but the university would lose massive amounts of money if they were kicked off. We’re talking sons of CEOs and politician. The dues are like $5000 a semester. They’ve been caught with cocaine, it still doesn’t get them kicked off campus.”

"Whose World Is This" -Jody Loud and Son Child

lead single from Jody Loud’s 2013 mixtape ‘The Last Summer’ soundcloud.com/jodyloud Directed by Marlo A. Custodio


Don’t tell me women are not the stuff of heroes,
I alone rode over the East Sea’s winds for ten thousand leagues.
My poetic thoughts ever expand, like a sail between ocean and heaven.
I dreamed of your three islands, all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.
I grieve to think of the bronze camels, guardians of China, lost in thorns.
Ashamed, I have done nothing; not one victory to my name.
I simply make my war horse sweat. Grieving over my native land
hurts my heart. So tell me; how can I spend these days here?
A guest enjoying your spring winds?

- My namesake, Qiu Jin