“Infinity Mirrors” artist Yayoi Kusama’s racist statements surface


Yayoi Kusama with her recent works. (Credit: Tomoaki Makino)

Gracie Rodriguez, Opinions Editor

Thousands of people have seen or plan to see “Infinity Mirrors”, the exhibition by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama that is being shown at the High Museum until February 17. The exhibition consists of six decades worth of Kusama’s work, including six of her kaleidoscopic “Infinity Mirror Rooms.”

Tickets for the exhibit are difficult to secure; advance tickets are sold out, and the High only offers about 100 walk-up tickets per day, which are not easy to get considering lines begin to form hours before the museum opens. Something that most museum-goers might not know, however, is that Kusama has expressed overtly racist sentiments in the past and has recently banned a black journalist from her space.

When Vice reporter and African-American Dexter Thomas traveled to Tokyo to film an interview with Kusama, he could only get through a few questions before the artist told him that she didn’t want to answer anything else. Hours after Thomas left, Vice received an email from Kusama’s public relations company. Regarding the content of the email, Thomas said “Kusama had not been aware I was going to talk to her–and that the questions were ‘low-quality’. The company insisted I not speak to her again. Any further coverage would proceed only on the condition that I wouldn’t be physically present.” In short, Kusama was not pleased with Thomas and asserted that she would no longer allow the interviewer to be in the same room as her.

While Kusama’s reaction to Thomas could potentially be attributed to her fragile mental health condition (she has lived in a psychiatric hospital for the last 40 years), there is speculation that her bias against black people is the reason she was so frustrated with the interviewer’s presence.

In Kusama’s 2002 autobiography, she explains that the part of Greenwich Village that she once lived in has become a cheap “slum” because “black people are shooting out front.” She depicts black people as primitive beings multiple times throughout her autobiography, saying that they have a “distinctive smell” and “animalistic sex techniques.” Her short story “The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street” is about a drug-addicted black male prostitute, which may further indicate that she is a believer of racist stereotypes.

The banning of a black journalist from her space combined with the glaring racism expressed in her writing suggest that she is probably not the best artist to support. Whether or not her mental health issues play a role in her questionable actions, it is clear that Kusama maintains anti-black beliefs, which is a quality that should not be forgiven.