When Yayoi Kusama was ten years old, she had hallucinations in which she experienced the world as an array of polka dots. I imagine such an experience might have been scary. But instead of getting scared, Yayoi got curious. Instead of dismissing herself and saying she was “crazy”, Yayoi embraced her vision as a gift. Instead of following her family’s advice to forget being an artist and to marry a rich man, Yayoi embraced a call to live as an artist. Now 78 years later at age 88, Yayoi Kusama’s art exhibits have been bringing record-breaking crowds to witness the world that Yayoi sees – what happens when we take a gift we have been given and experience it expanding to touch infinity.
As I stood in line to go into one of her six “infinity rooms” at the special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, I wondered what it is about her vision that we need in our world today. Perhaps in a time of grim realities, incessant tweets, and endless traffic jams we long to have our imaginations sparked by amazement. Perhaps we need the encouragement to look at what we’ve been given here and now – the gifts, the visions, the emotional ups and downs that are life, and not dismiss them, hide them away – but to offer them to a larger imagination.
The stories of Jesus feeding huge crowds with a couple of loaves of bread and a few small fish are familiar stories to those in Christian circles. The story is told many times about how in an impossible situation, Jesus turns to his friends and tells them not to run away from the challenge of an overwhelming task and call, but to look in their pockets and see what they’ve got. One time all his friends found were five loaves of bread and two fish between them. But instead of dismissing their gifts as inadequate or irrelevant, judging them or hiding them away and keeping them to themselves they offered them to Jesus which is another way of saying they offered them to all they called God.
They took what they had out of the hands of their own small imaginations and put them into an imagination bigger than their own, a love wider than their own, a possibility greater than their own labor could ever provide. In other words, they put their gifts into the hands of that which is at work in the ongoing work of creation. The story goes that Jesus took those seemingly paltry gifts and broke forth hilarity. Not only is there enough food for all to have their full, there are snacks to take home and share – twelve baskets full.
What that story points to, that kind of creation of everything from seemingly “nothing”, is what I experienced in Yayoi Kusama’s art. I walked out of my twenty second experience in my first infinity room wide eyed and exultant after a weary day. “You won’t believe it!”, I laughed to those waiting in line, “It’s so worth the wait!”
Today, I don’t want to wait. I want to take out what I find in my pocket, the gifts I shy from, the feelings I don’t know what to do with, the things I would rather hide away – my lostness, my loneliness, my grief, my joy, my gifts, the “polka dot” dreams I have been given – and take them out and risk giving them to God, give them to a wider imagination than my own obsessing or fussing. To take what I’ve got and risk naming it, sharing it, and letting God break it open. I can’t wait to see what might possibly happen.
(You can see Yayoi Kusama’s special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum through September 10. You can get timed same-day tickets when the museum first opens.)