Art of healing

Art of healing

Different strokes

Yoko Ono’s work highlights the importance of imagination, collective thinking, courage and women power, writes Giridhar Khasnis.

Extraordinary : Yoko Ono’s ‘Remember Us’. Photo by Briana Blasko © yoko ono

‘Our Beautiful Daughters’ is the title of the first ever solo show in India of Tokyo-born New York-based conceptual artist Yoko Ono. With its multiple installations, video films, and photographic images, the exhibition — on at Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi (till March 10) — exemplifies some of Ono’s continuing beliefs, wishes and concerns.

“Our beautiful daughters of the planet: each one of us is a being sent to earth to bring peace and happiness for all,” writes Yoko Ono. “Let’s have a clear vision about this. And know that this is the time to heal the world with WOMEN POWER. We can do it, and we will.”

Speaking of her prolific career as a peace activist, musician, performer and multi-media artist, gallerist Arun Vadhera explains how Ono’s fame cuts across generations; and how her work blurs the boundaries between everyday life and art, and between spiritualism, poetry and political action.

“It is metaphysical, ephemeral and conceptual while all the time remaining accessible to the viewer. It invites participation and introspection from the audience and in fact depends wholly on this response for its activation and fruition as an art work... The exhibition highlights the importance of peace, healing, the power of collective thinking, imagination, courage, and of course women power, all of which are at the core of Yoko Ono’s practice.”

The central piece of the exhibit is ‘Remember Us’ (2012), a haunting artwork occupying the space of an entire floor. In the dimly lit interiors, more than a dozen black, coffin-like boxes are neatly laid out. Each box is filled with tiny charcoal briquettes on which lies the cast of a dismembered woman’s body — unclothed and lifelike, frightening and engaging in colour, texture and blatancy.

Ono  urges the visitors to touch the bodies ‘and in the process come to terms with their feelings of compassion, love, empathy, identification, aggression, violence, acceptance, vulnerability and power that this acts of touching unleashes in them.’

The truly disturbing piece of art evokes multiple and often conflicting thoughts, even as it demystifies the sexual aura of the human body. Adding to the disquiet, bowls containing ashes are placed at the farther end of the gallery. On one of the walls, Ono has splashed dripping black paint which reads, in one instance ‘Uncurse yourself’; and in the other, ‘I am uncursed’. Colourful odhnis (hand-embroidered by women artisans from Bikaner) hang on the walls of the room, while recorded sounds of Indian streets add to the audio-visual experience.

Among other interactive exhibits is the ‘Wish Tree’, a public art project Ono has been working on for more than a decade in different cities around the world. In this seemingly simple piece, potted plants are placed at different venues and the visitors are encouraged to write their wish, prayer or thought on a paper tag and tie it to the plant.

Several ‘wish trees’ have found their way into public and private spaces in Delhi like schools, hospitals, galleries, and book shops.

In ‘Mend Piece’, the 78-year-old artist has placed shattered ceramic pottery pieces on a table; visitors are told to bring them back to life by taping, and gluing the broken pieces — as a symbolic gesture of mending all those things which are broken up in the world.

Similarly, for the ‘Heal Together’ work, the artist has slashed a large canvas; the audience, once again, are welcomed to stitch paper, cloth and other things on it. Another piece which has invited curious glances of Delhiites is the set of large hoardings with a single word ‘Touch’ inscribed on them.

The parallel exhibition titled ‘The Seeds’ places Ono’s works in context through videos, films and photographs; they include some of her famous performances, installations and artistic collaborations made over the past decades. Featured among them is her well-known ‘Instructions’ series which began in early 1960s and is considered to be one of the pioneering works in conceptual art.

Yoko Ono was born in Tokyo in 1933 and moved to New York when she was 20 and studied music and poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. She became an important member of the avant-garde ‘Fluxus’ movement in the 1960s, establishing herself as a daring, innovative and eccentric artist-performer of her time.  

“As one of the founders of the Fluxus movement, Ono helped identify and define the playful, subversive, visionary sensibility that has undergirded experimentation in all the arts ever since,” recalls curator and art critic Peter Frank. “Her poem-like verbal scores, her films, and her staged performances anticipated everything from minimalism to performance art, the furthest reaches of new cinema to the most extreme of Punk-New Wave music...

With her Fluxus colleagues Ono elevated the insubstantial to monumental status, allowing us to contemplate the magic of the ordinary, as well as to comprehend the ordinariness of the seemingly profound. This inversion, along with the inventive puckishness of her game-like concepts and activities, make her work endlessly provocative — at once irksome and inviting, loopy and lovely, teasing and teaching us to appreciate the intimate and elusive phenomena that comprise life.”

In 1969, Ono married John Lennon (1940 – 1980), the legendary singer-songwriter and one of the founding members of The Beatles. Together, they were actively involved in numerous campaigns supporting world peace and anti-war issues. Even after the tragic death of Lennon in 1980, Ono continued to communicate her message of love and peace through her music and performances. She gave stirring speeches appealing, among others, for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Winner of many international awards and honours, Ono has, over the decades, regularly set up her exhibitions and performances across the globe. She was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement from the Venice Biennale in 2009.

Ono has always pleaded for love, compassion and understanding. “Peace is here now,” she says. “It’s just that we don’t recognise it. About 98 per cent of people in the world are wanting peace. The two per cent is really trying to mess it up.”

In 2011, she received the 8th Hiroshima Art Prize for her contributions to world peace through contemporary art and for “the substantial role her activities have in transmitting the message of the ‘Spirit of Hiroshima’ throughout the entire world.”