New York: John Lennon once described his wife, Yoko Ono, as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Fortunately, India isn’t going to be in the dark. Way ahead of her time in giving acute visual form to women’s issues, the avant-garde artist will be in India next month to exhibit her work, “Our Beautiful Daughters.”
Ono is best known for her radical performance works like “Cut Piece” in 1965, for which she sat impassively, a kind of bodhisattva, while people slowly cut off her clothes. Critics hailed her work as an “amazing feminist manifesto” before most people even knew what feminism was. In keeping with the broad thrust of her work, Ono’s exhibition in Delhi will focus on the challenges facing women.
The New York-based conceptual artist said she had a “clear and lovely” memory of her first and only trip to India with her late husband John Lennon and was looking forward to her return visit next month.
“India was always on my radar. I have been there with my husband John a long time ago. Karma-wise it is interesting that I have been asked to come to the country I love and respect at this time when the world is going haywire,” Ono, 78, told the BBC.
Lennon wandered into Ono’s art exhibition at the Indica Gallery in London in 1966 and climbed the ladder to peer at a panel she had stuck to the ceiling with ”yes” in tiny print on it. Intrigued by her art work, Lennon quickly fell in love with Ono turning the media spotlight on her.
People tend to forget that Ono had a significant career as a conceptual artist long before she met the famous Beatle. Now over a prolific 40-year career she has embraced a wide range of media, including installations, film and video, music and performance art.
A public performance by Ono is part of the January 13-March 10 exhibition brought to India by Vadehra Art Gallery, in New Delhi. Ono’s performance art piece is set to take place at the India Habitat Center on January 15.
The US media warned Delhi to expect the unexpected. “More recently, Ms. Ono’s performances have seen her sing, shout, whisper and even fake an orgasm — sometimes all of the above. This is all from a woman who, at 78 years old, is older than Anna Hazare and just a few months younger than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” noted The Wall Street Journal.
“When she comes to Delhi next month, many will be curious to see whether she will be as daring in her performance art here as she has been elsewhere. Delhi is less used to avant-garde art than other cities where Ms. Ono has showcased her work, so it will be interesting to see how responsive the public is to her more conceptual work,” mused WSJ with ill-suppressed amusement.
Ono herself doesn’t seem fussed about fitting into India. Asked what she was looking forward to seeing in India during her visit, Ono told the BBC: “I would like to see that the ancient spirit of India is still intact and strong in the hearts of people.” She added, “I was inspired by India and its daughters.”
Ono said she and Lennon had visited the late Indian guru Sai Baba during their last visit to India.
Ono’s India exhibition will focus on audience participation and on installation pieces that show the inherent connection between participants. There will be a Wish Tree, Ono’s trademark interactive artwork, which asks people to write their wish for peace on a piece of paper and tie it on a branch of a tree. Ono has already collected over a million wishes from Wish Trees she has set up at gallery shows around the world. She will collect the India wishes and add them to her cache at the Imagine Peace Tower in Reykjavik, Iceland dedicated to Lennon.
Ono comes from a rich Japanese banking family on her mother’s side and aristocracy on her father’s. She probably inherited her musical genes from her father who wanted to be a classical pianist before he became a banker.
Ono topped the US dance chart in 2004 with a song supporting gay marriage. The track, titled “Every Man has a Man who Loves Him,” is a version of her song “Every Man has a Woman who Loves Him,” released almost 25 years ago.