Reading between Yayoi Kusama’s Lines

11 March 2014

Yayoi Kusama’s moving poem “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears” was affixed to the wall just as you exited her much buzzed about art installations entitled “I Who Have Arrived in Heaven,” at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea.  You probably saw a zillion selfies taken during this exhibition (guiltybut the poem’s print was itsy-bitsy and coupled with the bustle of gallery go’ers made it difficult to get up close to read.  Luckily for me, there was a break in the crowd and I was able to read it thoroughly. Upon reading, as the title implies, my eyes watered with tears. Yoyoi Kusama’s words are heartbreaking as she stumbles through facing her own mortality.  

I decided to read it again this afternoon (maybe I’m being nostalgic on the day o’my birth?) but as I read, I had a new sense of hope that I gathered between the lines.  It’s obviously a love poem, about art, about lost love, about found love and ultimately death, but a content death.  

This is precisely what I love so much about art, whatever the medium (haikus, weavings, sculptures, portraits, mobiles, paper mâché.) It’s ever evolving with messages that lead and guide us to further understanding, epiphanies and visions.

Whether you made it to the exhibition or not (maybe you missed the poem if you did?) I wanted to include it for you today, to read and interpret for yourself.

Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears

When the time comes around for people to encounter the end of their life
having put on years, death seems to be quietly approaching
It was not supposed to be my style to be frightened of that, but I am
In the shadows of my loved ones footprints, distress revisits me at the dead of night refreshing my memories
Being in love with and longing for you, I have locked myself up in this “castle of shed tears”
Now may be the time for me to wander off into the place, the guidepost to the other world points to
And the sky is waiting for me, attended by numerous clouds
Overwhelmed by your tenderness that has always encouraged me
I have been searching for “love” in earnest taking my wish for happiness along
Let me call out to and ask the birds flying about in the sky
I want to convey to them my feelings
Over many long years, with art as a weapon
I have treaded the path in search of love
During the days I have lived through keeping “despair”, “emptiness” and “loneliness” all to myself along the way
there were times when the fireworks of life “splendidly” adorned the sky
Dancing in the night sky in a myriad of colors, the fireworks sprinkled dust all over my body
I will never forget that exhilarating moment
Now I think is the time to dedicate my heart to you, my dearest
Was the beauty of the end of one’s life nothing more than illusion?
Would you give me an answer to this?
Devoting all my heart to you, I have lived through to this day
Hoping to leave beautiful footprints at the end of my life
I spend each day praying that my wish will be fulfilled
This is my message of love to you


Now at eighty-four, Kusama lives by choice in a psychiatric facility, wheelchair bound, in Japan. What she makes clear in the title of the exhibit as well as in some of the names her new works, her ultimate fate awaits but adds, “If you can be happy through my artwork, there’s nothing more joyous than that.”


Image: Yayoi Kusama Horse Play in Woodstock, a happening, 1967


Categories: Art, self-improvement, women

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