The slight tilt of a cream coloured hat, a pair of spectacles perched precariously on the tip of her petite nose and a smile that can win over even the biggest cynic – Yoko Ono, Japanese artist, filmmaker and peace activist, is every inch a performer. Being a Beatles widow (she was married to John Lennon) certainly helps – to create an aura that is as exotic as the India she is hoping to rediscover as part of her artistic debut in Delhi this month.
Though this is not her maiden visit to India – she had accompanied Lennon in the early 70′s to visit a Sai Baba camp – this is perhaps the first time that the attention is all hers to grab. She has been invited by Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery to provide a multi-media experience of her art – two parallel exhibitions, a performance and public art installations spread over 20 venues in the city.
The exhibition Our Beautiful Daughters, the title of which Ono claims was inspired by her visit to India, apart from giving a glimpse into an art practice which speaks of essential universal values of courage, peace and faith, will also bring into focus the issues of gender. Ono has always delved into the experiences of women and is creating a new installation for India that will shed light on some of the challenges women face today. Apart from this, the show in Delhi will recall some of her legendary instruction based works. My Mommy Is Beautiful, for instance, extends an invitation to viewers to cover empty canvases and walls with messages and photographs of their mother as a dedication to motherhood and love.
“It’s endearing to see that so many Indian women, despite so much suffering, stand up for themselves. And so many women here are involved with arts,” says the 79-year- old whose own childhood during the Second World War in Japan when the family was forced to beg for food and youth as a woman was far from easy. “If we don’t respect our women, we will destroy everything,” she says, “I believe that if you give freedom, justice and peace to women, you are paving the way for world peace.”
The parallel show titled The Seeds will showcase some of Ono’s earlier works – films, collaborations with other artists, instructions, photographs, along with documentation of her earlier performances.
It is perhaps her performance piece titled To India With Love that will take place on January 15 at India Habitat centre that will be the highlight of her art outing. Though Ono sidesteps the query of what she plans to perform, only committing that it will be the audience who will inspire her for what could be an impromptu piece, going by her past record, no one is going to be let down. An example of her earlier performance art is Cut Piece, first performed in 1964 at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo. Ono executed the performance in Tokyo by walking on stage and casually kneeling on the floor in a draped garment. Audience members were asked to come on stage and begin cutting until she was naked. Cut Piece was Ono’s way to outwardly communicate her internal suffering through her art at the same time making a plea for social unity and love.
In addition, Ono is also creating her famous Wish Tree which she first made in Japan in 1996 inspired by her childhood experience of visiting a temple in Japan where she would write a wish on a piece of paper and attach it to a tree’s branch. “When I did the Wish Tree project in LA, there wasn’t much of a response but in Spain, it was the working class which came out in huge queues to tie their wish around the tree. I decided then that I would never throw away these and will somehow find a place for them.” The wishes – now totalling over a million – will be sent to Imagine Peace Tower, a memorial Ono created for Lennon in 2007 on the isle of Videy in Iceland.
Wish Tree, however, is only one among the several public art projects Ono is going to put up in Delhi. Since the 60′s, Ono has made artworks using advertising as a medium. In 1969, with Lennon, she launched the iconic anti-war campaign War Is Over (if you want it) across the world. The banners and instructions are often translated into the languages of the countries they are displayed in, making their meaning accessible to the masses. For India in 2012, she has specially chosen four messages, Smile, Touch, Dream and Our Beautiful Daughters.
John Lennon once described her as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” But with this Indian soiree, at least for us this is going to change.
Our Beautiful Daughters will be on at Vadehra Art Gallery, D-178, Okhla Phase 1, New Delhi from January 13- March 10, 2012
The Seeds will be on at Vadehra Art Gallery, D-53, Defence Colony, New Delhi from from January 13- March 10, 2012
To India With Love, performance at India Habitat Centre on January 15, 2012 at 7.30 p.m.
Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist and has covered the arts for over 15 years. She contributes on visual arts for various newspapers, magazines and online media. More about her on Story Wallahs. Write to her @ firstname.lastname@example.org