Repetition and the Art of Yayoi Kusama | Mental Health Awareness Series

As many of you may know, the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I find the issue of mental health extremely important and something that should be talked about much more in our society. For so long, talking about mental health has been seen as a taboo, but that fortunately has been changing for the better. It is very important to know that there are others out there who may struggle with the same mental health problems as you do. Even if you do not struggle personally with your own mental health, it is important to know that there are individuals around you who might be and deserve support.

For the rest of this month, I would like to dedicate a few of my posts to Mental Health Awareness by bringing attention to ways that different artists have channeled their struggles into art. Art can serve as a great mechanism for coping with one’s mental health. I do not want to discount the fact that medicine and therapy, as well as other resources, are very helpful and sometimes necessary in certain circumstances. Seeking help is important, but it is also important to help yourself as much as you can. At the bottom of this post, you will be able to find public resources to aid in mental health management. I hope I can open some of your eyes to the realities, of issues that exist in the world and can possibly entertain the idea of self-expression as one mode of coping.

I would also like to note that my lovely friend, Steph has a mental health section on her blog and will be making some special content for Mental Health Awareness Month, so go give her some love and check out her blog.


Today I would like to direct your attention to the visual artist, Yayoi Kusama. Yayoi Kusama was born in Nagano, Japan in 1929 to parents in a loveless marriage. She did not have a good relationship with her parents growing up and often recalls being abused by her mother and being sent out to spy on her adulterous father with his many partners. This unfortunately effected Kusama at a young age causing her to have a contempt towards sexual relationships. A perpetual disassociation from reality caused her to have hallucinations where she would see fields of dots and flowers on walls speaking out at her. She found art at an early age and used it to channel her hallucinations and ended up incorporating the dots into her work even up until today. She saw the repetition of dots as an obsession that associated with her own neurosis. While her mother was unsupportive of her work and her endeavors towards chasing art as a profession, she tried to reach beyond the oppression that she faced in her childhood.

Mirror Room (Pumpkin) | Yayoi Kusama | 1991

Mirror Room (Pumpkin) | Yayoi Kusama | 1991

Many of her artworks are large and encapsulating to the point that they become their own environments. She has described herself sometimes as an environmental artist in this respect because of the world that she creates. When she moved from Japan to New York City, she told herself that she would make a name for herself no matter what. She would work everyday on creating huge canvases covered in dots which created patterns she would regard as “nets”. The art would grow bigger and bigger until she felt it was growing outside of the canvas and creating its own environment for itself. When a viewer walks into her made environments, it is almost like they are stepping into her mind. The repetition of the dots all over the space causes the viewer to be completely submerged in a world that is not originally their own.

Untitled | Yayoi Kusama | 1966

Untitled | Yayoi Kusama | 1966

Obsessions is a main theme in her art. It is an inward view on her own biography and coping with the struggles that she has been faced with throughout the span of her life. Another source of repetition in this obsession, has been phallic soft sculptures which she has often adhered to everyday objects such as furniture and clothing items. Her relationship with her parents, and having to spy on her father’s affairs as a child, caused Kusama to have a fear of sex. She deals with her fears by confronting them in bounty. Her phallic soft sculptures overwhelm the space that they are in and create another environment unlike any other. The repetition of the phallic soft sculptures is so redundant that it begins to lose its meaning which allows Kusama to strip power away from it and give the power back to herself.

While she has used art to cope with her neuroses, it is important to know that she sought out more mechanisms than just art to allow her to function with her mental illness. Today, Yayoi Kusama lives within a mental institution which she has chosen to live within because it allows her to manage herself beyond what she is capable of doing on her own. She receives aid while also being able to work in her studio by day and pursue what she loves. Instead of ignoring and suppressing the unfortunate events that have occurred in her life, she has been able to use them to her advantage by looking at them straight in the face and understanding that these things did happen.

I have only gone very briefly into the artwork and life of Yasoi Kusama and I encourage you to look more deeply into her story. There are some great videos out there that follow her story and interview her for her own point of view.

If you are going through your own struggles with mental illness make sure to reach out to a professional and use all of the resources that you can get access to. While I encourage finding an outlet in which to channel your energy and cope with your mental illness, that sometimes is not enough. Understand that finding an outlet can make it better, but you should not be afraid to seek further help.

Below you can find several resources to either seek help with your own mental illness or learn more about them so you can be more understanding to those around you.

Online Therapy with

Information on Different Mental Health Disorders with

Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-800-273-8255

Of course there are so many more resources that you can access, but these will at least give you a jumping off point.

What do you do to cope? What do you do to make yourself calm down or feel happy?