Kusama: The graphic novel
By Elisa Macellari
Laurence King Publishing
I happened upon photos of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and then wondered about them, but I confess that I never bothered to find out more about who this brightly colored person was. A cornucopia of attention-grabbing distractions, the internet presents a steady stream of unusual people whose faces lead you down their own rabbit hole. To stick with it, I’ve tried not to let every encounter like this take me away from whatever my goal is at this point in time.
So when I noticed the release of Kusama: The Graphic Novel, I was intrigued, an opportunity to both get down to business and be misled at the same time. The playful work of the Thai-Italian artist Elisa Macellari gave me the basic information I needed. Kusama is a Japanese artist whose provocative and sexually charged conceptual work gained notoriety outside of the art world in the 1960s, but has been successful within it for several years.
This is the miniature sketch of Kusama’s life, but Macellari’s aim is not only to sketch Kusama’s life, nor is it to provide a standard drama. Instead, Macellari offers a whimsical picture book frame that encompasses not only Kusama’s art, but the circumstances surrounding her mental illness as well. This gives the book an abstract quality and also an immersive quality for the reader, who experiences this life at least as much as possible as a shared experience with his main character.
Macellari begins with Kusama’s earlier years, her struggle with hallucinations and distortions of perception that aroused feelings of displacement in the young artist, and her struggles with her parents about the appropriate way for a young woman to find her way around the world. The story of Kusama’s escape to the United States, feeling suffocated by her family and Japan, has the tone of a dark fairy tale.
Once she hits New York City and found her way to artistic success, Kusama: The Graphic Novel has a slight sense of science fiction – think The Man Who Fell To Earth. In a way, Kusama’s conceptual work was very timely and looks a little silly in retrospect – for example, staged orgies where participants dotted each other – but they stand as unusual manifestations of Kusama’s inner reactions to the society she was moving through . an alien who speaks a language that is difficult to decipher.
Kusama: The Graphic Novel manages to present its subject in such a way that, while it is an immersive presentation, the reader is never privy to all of the secrets in Kusama’s head – and Kusama’s existence never feels so standardized that every thought or thought Action is necessarily identifiable. This enables empathy without sacrificing Kusama’s specific existence and distills their circumstances from those of a person who experiences the universe differently and therefore reacts differently. Macellari’s visual presentation, in turn, takes this idea into account and at the same time reflects the self-staging of the artist – colorful, playful and sometimes abstract.
Kusama is certainly one of the weirdos in the world, and while Kusama: The Graphic Novel recognizes the serious neurology involved and illustrates its influence, it does so as a fact of existence rather than a specificity of an individual. Macellari shows an example of these circumstances, which create potentials beyond themselves and perhaps even extend to the other weirdos in the world, with the message that nobody needs to be trapped in themselves.
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