WHAT:  JACCC Awarded Getty Foundation Multicultural Undergraduate Summer Internship Grant

The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center is pleased to announce it has been awarded a Multicultural Undergraduate Summer Internship Grant from the Getty Foundation.  The purpose of the grant is to increase the diversity in professions related to museums and visual arts.  The internships are intended specifically for outstanding students who are members of groups currently underrepresented in these professions, including individuals of African American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander descent.

The Visual Arts Intern will work directly with the Visual Arts department, experiencing first-hand the work, organization and installation that goes into setting up this summer’s programs, including the 74th Annual Nisei Week exhibitions in August.

To be eligible for the Visual Arts Internship candidates must be a currently enrolled undergraduate, having completed at least one semester of college by June 2014 or will graduate by of before September 2014.  Candidates must be a resident of or attend college in Los Angeles County.  Intern candidates may come from any area of undergraduate study and are not required to have demonstrated a previous commitment to the visual arts.

The intern will receive a gross salary of $3,500 for a ten-week period at the JACCC. Internships are a full-time position running from Monday, June 16 through Saturday, August 23, 2014.

Those interested in applying for the position may submit the following no later than noon on Friday, May 2, 2014:

  • Resumé/CV

  • statement (no more than 500 words, double-spaced, typed)
  • First, middle & last name (if not on your CV)

  • Email, phone & address (if not on your CV)

  • College or university you are currently attending

  • Major/area(s) of study
  • Anticipated graduation date

  • 2 Letters of reference or contact info (email, phone) for 2 references: either a teacher, professor, or a former employer
  • Please note the dates of the JACCC’s 10 week program, as well as the requirements in the Getty link below, before submitting to make sure you are both eligible and available to participate in the program.

Preliminary candidates will be contacted to do an in person interview for the week of Monday, May 5, 2014. All applicants will be contacted by the week of May 12 with the final decisions.

Please note the following “Save The Dates” required intern events by the Getty Foundation:

  • Arts Summit (mandatory)
The Getty Center, Los Angeles: Monday, June 30, 2014 (all day, exact times TBA)

A day-long orientation for all interns participating in the Summer 2014 Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program. Interns will be introduced to the program, meet with their Learning Community Hub Leaders, and attend panels highlighting career opportunities in the arts.
  • Learning Communities (two mandatory events)
Regional Hub Events Dates, Times, and Locations are TBD. These activities are meant to enhance the internship experience and expose interns to other organizations, arts professionals, and career opportunities in their area. Dates and times of hub meetings will vary, though interns must notify supervisors of scheduled activities in advance. Supervisors must allow interns to attend the two required events in their Learning Community.   

General information about the program and requirements:

WHERE:             Japanese American Cultural and Community Center

244 South San Pedro Street, in the Little Tokyo area of downtown Los Angeles.

INFO:             For more information please contact Wakana Kimura at (213) 628-2725 ext. 146.




The mass incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II is a powerful but often occluded illustration of the fragility of US citizenship and civil liberties. As such, this event demands frequent reexamination in relation to ongoing conversations regarding post-9/11 special registration, detention, and deportation, as well as long-standing formal and informal practices of profiling and surveillance of communities of color. This daylong conference presents a three-part program examining: 1) the history of the Japanese American incarceration and how it is made meaningful to multiple publics in different locations – higher education, museums, and our national landmarks; 2) artists who deploy this history as relevant to their artistic and political practices in the present; 3) the legal significance of the incarceration to contemporary local and national state policies directed against communities of color.

Conference Program

1. 9:00AM – 10:00AM: Registration & Coffee/Tea

2. 10:00AM – 10:15AM: Introductions

  • Jennifer Hayashida, Director of the Asian American Studies Program, Hunter College

3. 10:15AM – 11:00AM: Keynote Address

  • Norman Mineta, 14th United States Secretary of Transportation

4. 11:00AM – 12:30PM: Panel I: Teaching the Limits of Citizenship to Multiple Post-9/11 Publics

  • Heidi Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, English, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Greg Kimura, PhD, President/CEO, The Japanese American National Museum
  • Franklin Odo, PhD, Founding Director – Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

5. 12:30PM – 1:45PM: Lunch

6. 1:45PM – 3:15PM: Panel II: Dislocated Memories: Incarceration, Communities of Color & the Arts

  • Tomie Arai, Public Artist & Printmaker
  • Roger Shimomura, Artist & Distinguished Professor of Art Emeritus, The University of Kansas
  • Katie Yamasaki, Muralist & Children’s Book Author/Illustrator

7. 3:30PM – 5:00PM: Panel III: Legacies of the Incarceration in Surveillance & Policing of U.S. Communities of Color

  • Baher Azmy, Legal Director, The Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Kathryn Bannai, first lead attorney in Hirabayashi vs. US in 1982-1985
  • Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder & National Director of Programs, The Sikh Coalition

8. 5:00PM – 6:00PM: Reception


"Yonsei" by seanmiura

"They can take us anywhere but they will never have our spirits. Our lives will burn before they are sold."

Today is February 19th. What is significant about February 19th? Good question, Facebook.

In the wake of Pearl Harbor and growing suspicion of Japanese people in America (we were really good at farming and that’s a problem apparently), on February 19th, 1941 President Roosevelt signed EO9066 which put 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps, prisons, and isolation centers without due process.

We commemorate that every year with a Day of Remembrance to reflect and move forward as JAs, as Americans, and as humans. Had the honor of reading some reflection this past weekend.

Seriously, how awesome is Nate Shinagawa? You may remember him from 2012 when he was the Democratic candidate in the race for New York’s 23rd Congressional seat. I covered his race in an article for Hyphen Magazine, and though the Republican incumbent kept the seat, Nate hasn’t stopped moving forward. He remains one of the most well-liked members of Ithaca’s county legislature and has been pulling some very Cory-Booker-local-superhero stunts lately.
He and Ithaca’s mayor, Svante Myrick, went around shoveling peoples’ driveways during the giant snowstorm upstate New York got this week!
Send him some love, it’s cold out there!

Seriously, how awesome is Nate Shinagawa? You may remember him from 2012 when he was the Democratic candidate in the race for New York’s 23rd Congressional seat. I covered his race in an article for Hyphen Magazine, and though the Republican incumbent kept the seat, Nate hasn’t stopped moving forward. He remains one of the most well-liked members of Ithaca’s county legislature and has been pulling some very Cory-Booker-local-superhero stunts lately.

He and Ithaca’s mayor, Svante Myrick, went around shoveling peoples’ driveways during the giant snowstorm upstate New York got this week!

Send him some love, it’s cold out there!

Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas and Congressman Mike Honda will headline this year’s Fred Korematsu Day Celebration on Sunday, January 26, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Morris Dailey Auditorium in Tower Hall at San Jose State University. Emmy Award-winning journalist Lloyd LaCuesta will emcee.


The celebration honors the fourth anniversary of “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties & the Constitution Day,” which is observed on January 30 by state law in California. Korematsu’s resistance to the Japanese American mass incarceration during World War II and his subsequent court victories revealed one of the worst violations of civil rights in American history. In 1998, Fred Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.

Tickets are $15; $5 for students. The event is produced by the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, and sponsored by the Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and the film DOCUMENTED, the story of Jose Antonio Vargas.

Media Contact:

"Geishas are basically, like, the masters of loving unconditionally."

Washington, D.C.- The Japanese American Citizens League is now accepting applications for the “KAKEHASHI Project: Japanese American Young Adults Invitation Program.” Funded by the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission (Fulbright Japan) and co-organized by the Japan Foundation and the Laurasian Institution in the U.S., the KAKEHASHI Project is a short-term study tour for undergraduate and graduate students ages 18-25 years old.
The goals of Japanese American Young Adults Invitation Program are (1) to continue building cooperation between Japanese Americans and Japan, (2) to promote Japanese Americans a better understanding of Japan in a variety of fields including politics, economy and culture, and (3) to encourage Kakehashi alumni to be effective advocates in enhancing U.S.-Japan relations.

JACL is coordinating 4 trips to Japan in May, July and October, 2014. 


Trip Dates, Application & Notification Schedule

Trip DateApplication DeadlineNotification of SelectionTrip 1:
May 19 - May 29, 2014
January 17, 2014Mid-February 2014Trip 2:
July 14 - July 24, 2014
February 20, 2014End of March 2014Trips 3 & 4:
October, 2014 TBD
February 20, 2014End of March 2014


Application Procedure 


Completed applications and all requested documentation must be received by the Japanese American Citizens League no later than the deadline application dates specified above. 


The application may be submitted online, e-mail or hard-copy. Application and guidelines are available online at:


For inquiries, please contact Amy Watanabe, Kakehashi Coordinator at (202) 223-1240 or



 Organizations involved in implementation of the program:

  • Funded by the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission (Fulbright Japan)
  • Co-Organized by the Japan Foundation and The Laurasian Institution in the U.S.
  • In partnership with the Japanese American Citizens League

The Japanese American Young Adults Invitation Program is part of the “KAKEHASHI Project: The Bridge for Tomorrow”, a youth exchange project promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan, designed to heighten potential interest in Japan and increase the number of overseas visitors, as well as enhance international understanding of the “Japan brand,” and the nation’s strengths and attractiveness, such as Japanese-style values and “Cool Japan.”  

Filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura working on the documentary, Jake Shimabukuro: Life of Four Strings. Photo by Aaron Yoshino.

We interview filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura, who recently won the Audience Award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York for his documentary, Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings about the Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso. Here, Tad talks about the best moments from the awards, his dream project, advice to future independent filmmakers, and working with CAAM.

M: Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like being at the (Gotham Independent Film) Awards and winning the Audience Award? What were some of your favorite moments from the event?

Definitely the highlights were actually getting to talk to (filmmaker) Ryan Coogler and (actor) Michael B. Jordan. Just being such a fan of Fruitvale Station, the film, definitely the biggest highlight was meeting people from that team. Also being able to represent CAAM (the Center for Asian American Media) and PIC (Pacific Islanders in Communications) and just Asian American documentaries. Besides our film, Ramona Diaz’s documentary on Arnel Pineda (Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey) was also nominated. It was kind of cool to have two of the five of films nominated both be Asian American-directed documentaries. It felt good to represent the community in a space like that. After we did the red carpet, we just started going up to people and asking them if we could take pictures with them and just telling them that we were fans. What was even cooler was the Audience Award was the first award that was announced. So it was kind of like, we went and said hi to these people that we were fans of, and the first award I went up to get it, so I think they were like, ‘That’s the guy who just asked to take a picture with me.’ After the awards, all those same people that we kind of went up to as fans, they kind of came up to us more as colleagues.

Documentary filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura with fiance Cindy Sangalang at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, where Nakamura took home the Audience Award in November, 2013. Photo courtesy of Tadashi Nakamura.

Documentary filmmaker Tadashi Nakamura with fiance Cindy Sangalang at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, where Nakamura took home the Audience Award. November, 2013. Photo courtesy of Tadashi Nakamura.

M: In your acceptance speech, you end with “Rest in Power, Oscar Grant.” Can you tell us more about that?

T: I was always told and taught to utilize whatever platform you have to voice, to represent, our community. And I think for me, it was an honor to be in the same category as Fruitvale Station, which was the film on Oscar Grant’s life. I wanted to pay my respects to their film, and the legacy and life of Oscar Grant. But also wanted to show that Oscar Grant isn’t just a brown and black hero or martyr or issue, in terms of seeking justice for his death. It was a spur of the moment thing, but it was the fact that I had just been talking to the people who made Fruitvale Station, and also wanted to pay tribute to that.

M: Can you talk a little bit about what projects you are currently working on?

T: Currently working on two big projects. One is, working with CAAM again, it’s on a film that’s being produced by Visual Communications in association with the Center for Asian American Media. It’s going to be a retrospective of the last 50 years of independent Asian American cinema. It’s a big scope, a lot of films and information and history to cover within an hour piece. But I’m really excited about it, there’s nothing out there like it of its kind. It’s a film I wish existed what I was an Asian American studies student. It will be great because I will be able to work with CAAM and Visual Communications, but also really go through the history of Asian American cinema that has inspired me and other filmmakers. I also just started production on another documentary in Hawaii. This one is with Oiwi TV, which is one of the production companies that worked on the Jake film in Hawaii. We’re doing a documentary on two graffiti artists named Prime and Estria. They’re doing a series of murals on all the islands in Hawaii. For each mural, they’ll be working with local Hawaiian youth in the area. What they’re going to be doing is incorporating Hawaiian chants and meles and kind of creation stories as the content for the murals. So they’re going to be utilizing public art, aerosol art, as a bridge between youth and traditional Hawaiian culture.

M: That sounds really cool. I’m wondering about your parents’ influence on you. (Robert Nakamura and Karen Ishizuka, both filmmakers). Did they influence you to choose this field, and how did they influence what you choose for your topics for your films?

T: They’ve been a huge influence and inspiration. Now it’s a direct one. Before, it was kind of indirect. As much as I was surrounded by Asian American, or specifically, Japanese American documentary filmmaking, growing up, I never thought I would be doing this. It wasn’t until I was an Asian American studies student at UCLA that through student activism that I got involved with documentary as a tool to build community or support campaigns that we were organizing around. So my entry into filmmaking was community-based, was student organizing-based. That still stands for me now that I was grounded from my parents, on measures of success for your films aren’t awards or getting picked up by a distribution company, but it’s how useful that film could be to the community that it can serve. The community—community meaning, the specific Japanese American community in L.A. or the broader Asian American community in the country—I feel like I have been very supported as a filmmaker. Validation from the community is as good as it gets for me.

M: Do you see yourself continuing to make films focusing on the Asian American community? What are some of your dream projects, either relating to Asian America issues or communities or individuals, or outside of that?

T: I think almost all the projects I’d love to do are based within the Asian American or Pacific Islander community. My thing too, is, before, and I still kind of feel this way—well the main reason why all my films at this point have been on the Japanese American community is that I don’t necessarily feel quite comfortable doing a film on another community, or I feel that there’s someone from that community that could probably tell the story better. So this project with Estria and Prime in Hawaii is kind of the first film that I’m doing outside of the Japanese American community, but the only reason I feel comfortable doing it is because I’m doing it with other Native Hawaiian filmmakers that I feel could provide that perspective. But in terms of dream projects, I’m a big fan of sports documentaries. As an undergrad at UCLA, I was part of a tutoring program at Carson High School, in Carson, California, which has a long history, and big population, of the Samoan American community. So my dream kind of film would be to do a documentary on the Carson High School football team and follow them for a season and through that, document the Samoan American community, and specifically for the young men in that community, the intersection between football, street violence and church.

M I have one more question. What’s your advice to people who want to get into independent filmmaking?

T: I would definitely say, to really make films that you’re passionate about. Not necessarily make films that you feel will have a large audience or that will sell well. I think the best stories are told by people who really believe in them. Because realistically, in a community documentary realm, or even in a documentary realm in general even on a mainstream level, there’s not that much money to be made off of these films. You’re not going to get rich of it, you’re not going to get famous off of it. So might as well do something that’s fulfilling for yourself or fulfilling for the people that you’re documenting. Also too, filmmaking is one of those things that you never get better until you just kind of jump in and start making films. As much as funding is a big obstacle, I think a lot of people probably put too much dependence on securing funds before they start making the film. I would suggest just go ahead and just try to do it out of pocket. In terms of skill building and craft building, you’ll learn more by that than anything else.

M: Did you want to add anything else before we close the interview?

T: Yeah. This film is a CAAM production, co-produced by Pacific Islanders in Communications. I just always want to thank CAAM and Don Young, the producer of the film. They really took a chance hiring me to direct and edit the film. Before this film, I hadn’t done an hour-long piece, or especially a broadcast quality piece. Not only the Gotham Awards, but just things like premiering at the Castro (Theatre) and going to PBS headquarters in D.C., there’s been so many experiences that I’ve grown from as a filmmaker and I think it’s all because they gave me a shot. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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.

The Little Tokyo Community Council and Little Tokyo Service Center are collaborating with a range of community and environmental advocates to help create green, inclusive revitalization in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles. 

 In partnership with a professional design, engineering, and economic consulting team, we want to hear your thoughts as community stakeholders to envision and create state of the art plans for properties around the planned Regional Connector station that will advance the goal of sustainable neighborhood revitalization and cultural preservation.  With your help and input, the sustainable redevelopment of these sites will have a catalytic effect on the rest of the neighborhood. 

Please join us for a multi-day community forum to generate our vision for a truly sustainable Little Tokyo and to identify strategies that promote our environmental, economic, community and cultural values and aspirations.  At the forum, there will be a variety of interactive activities and educational tables to gather community input, including specific conversations and listening stations to learn more about different parts of the community.  There will also be an opportunity to learn about the LEED for Neighborhood Development sustainability framework, and how that can help inform our environmental vision and goals.

Don’t forget to RSVP!

Day 1   September 27, Friday 

Interactive Workshops   12-6pm

Koyasan Buddhist Temple

342 E 1st St

Day 2   September 28, Saturday

Interactive Workshops   9:30am-1pm

Union Center for the Arts

120 Judge John Aiso St

Presentation of Work-in-progress   6-7:30pm
Tateuchi Democracy Forum 
100 N Central Ave

Day 3   September 29, Sunday
Open House   1:30-3:30pm
Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple
815 E 1st St

*Locations subject to change

Japanese translation available and Korean translation upon request

Download Info Packet Here