My 2018 mission of seeing all the female directed films continues into 2019 with Kusama – Infinity. This is a documentary about artist Yayoi Kusama by Heather Lenz.

I like seeing documentaries about people I really don’t know much about. I’d heard of Yayoi Kusama – but what I knew was: Japanese, dots, lives in a mental hospital, and that I’d read this article in Vice which left me with the impression that she might be a little bit racist.

The film by offers a fascinating look at Kusama’s life, art, and travails – especially in relation to the barricades put in her way by a sexist and Euro-centric art scene in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. The clear “borrowing” of her ideas by more successful male artists was especially infuriating; but then, here she is, now, in her late 80s – prolific, recognised, popular, and the top-selling living female artist in the world, according to the film. She has shows all over the world that sell out and her works can sell for millions of dollars.

The film combines interviews (with Yayoi as well as friends and colleagues from over her long career) with archival film, shots of her art, the art of other related artists, and of reviews and other such artefacts. It’s a story of resilience and vulnerability; she comes across as incredibly determined while also quite fragile.

I walked out feeling … I don’t know – like you just have to keep going. Do your thing. Fight your fights. Be true to yourself.

Filmmaker Heather Lenz with Yayoi Kusama

Which, as I’ve come home and read a little bit about the filmmaker, seems quite appropriate. Heather Lenz spent 17 years working on this film – which is to say she began the film before this recent blossoming of interest and recognition of Kusama’s work.

Read an interesting Observer interview with Heather here.

Synopsis from Dendy Cinemas

Now one of the world’s most celebrated artists, Yayoi Kusama broke free of the rigid society in which she was raised, and overcame sexism, racism, and mental illness to bring her artistic vision to the world stage. At 88 she lives in a mental hospital and continues to create art.

Kusama – Infinity explores Yayoi Kusama’s fierce determination to become a world-renowned artist. Kusama was born into a conservative family in rural Japan and she made her way to America on the heels of WWII. There, without connections and speaking only broken English, she devoted herself to her one true love, making art.

On her first day in New York, Kusama has stated that she climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, looked down upon the city below, and made a decision to stand out from everyone she saw below and become a star. She has received the Praemium Imperiale Laureate for lifetime achievement in painting, and was named the world’s ‘most popular artist’ and one of the ‘most expensive living female artist’ in 2014. 

Seen at the Dendy Cinema (Newtown) on 11 January

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