Kusama has said, “I don’t like sex. I had an obsession with sex. When I was a child, my father had lovers and I saw him with them. My mother sent me to spy on him. I didn’t want to have sex with anyone for years.” In a not unusual move, she coped with this dread of sex through her work. Even in an oeuvre pitted with repetition,  her obsession with sexuality and phallic objects stands out. During the years she spent in New York, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, she covered furniture with fake penises, protested violence with public nudity, opened a boutique to sell see-through clothing, briefly published a magazine called Kusama Orgy, and offered herself to Nixon in exchange for him pulling out of Vietnam. She had photos taken of herself in the nude, dots superimposed on her flesh, but when she staged performance pieces in which others were naked, she was usually clothed.

While she is little known for her literary efforts outside of Japan, Kusama also writes books. They usually center on luminous lunatics, prostitutes, and drug addicts and include scenes like this one, in which a hustler cuts off his john’s cock:

“In his accursed hand he notices something that glitters a bright sports-car silver. The semen dogging him through the night continues to flow incessantly, entwining itself around the jackknife in his hand and dripping down on the carpet.”

Cynthia Gralla
Kusama Yayoi: pop goes the disease
BODY 22nd March 2019