How Yayoi Kusama Turns OCD Into Art

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama
Writer: Jackie Zimmermann, Sarah Todd
Illustration: Kirby Salvador


“Polka dots can’t stay alone,” Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama once said of her attraction to the pattern that dominates her work. A fixture of the 1960s New York avant-garde scene, Kusama has long held that obsessive-compulsive disorder fuels her creativity.

Kusama returned to Japan in the early 1970s. Shortly afterward, she chose to move into a mental hospital. She still lives there today, producing new art from a nearby studio. A 2012 retrospective of her work featured abstract paintings, sculptures covered in phallic shapes and installations like the light-filled “Firefly on the Water.” “I have been grappling with art as a therapy for my disease,” she said in an interview. “I create art for the healing of all mankind.”

This feature originally appeared in the Anxiety issue. For more inspiring women, check out Grandma Moses’s story and our 5 Women section.

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