ARTIST IN THE SPOTLIGHT: YOKO ONO

The first issue of Pisswife features a playlist filled with inspiring and empowering artists. On our website we wish to continue the flow of musicians that continue to give us food for thought, bring us feelings of solidarity or let us question the status quo. In this article, Pisswife Liza wants to introduce you to a different side of Yoko Ono.

We all know Yoko Ono as the wife of John Lennon; often, we have a very negative connotation with the name Yoko Ono – we know her as the woman (or the “dragon”, as she was brutally nicknamed) who broke up the Beatles, who kept John Lennon all to herself, destroying his future in music (which is just a blatant lie). This line of thinking certainly was present during the 60s and 70s; Yoko Ono was called the “most hated woman on earth” for a long period of time. Only now are we beginning to discover Yoko Ono: The Artist.

While the mainstream public hated her, in some circles, Yoko Ono was already recognized as an artist; she was a pioneer in performance- and conceptual art, often with a Dadaist tone. One of her most famous works is a feminist performance piece called “Cut Piece”, in which Yoko Ono sits on stage and let people from the audience come up to her to cut pieces of her dress (it’s available on YouTube – would highly recommend watching it, there were a lot of feelings). “Cut Piece” is a part of my personal favourite book: Grapefruit (literally though, I cried and laughed out loud while reading this book). This book is a collection of small prompts, such as “Cut Piece”, every page (or postcard, as it was originally written) describing an instruction, some of them attainable, as “Cut Piece” was, others more abstract, such as “Tunafish Sandwich Piece”:

TUNAFISH SANDWICH PIECE

Imagine one thousand suns in the sky at the same time.

Let them shine for one hour.

Then, let them gradually melt

into the sky.

Make one tunafish sandwich and eat.

1964 spring

A lot of her artworks were interactive like “Cut Piece”; the audience was often invited on stage to participate in the artwork. In “Painting to Hammer a Nail”, people were invited to hammer a nail in a piece of canvas and wrap one of their hairs around it – the artwork was to be completed once the whole canvas was full of these nails.

Not only was she a forerunner in conceptual performance art, she also created a lot of experimental music, drawing inspiration from her own experiences, as well as Zen Buddhism. She inspired many other experimental artists, such as John Cage (known for his piece “4’33”), but also helped Lennon to become much more authentic and conceptual, encouraging him to step out of the mainstream of the Beatles and exploring his personal voice as an artist. After his death, she helped to make sure that his legacy would be maintained; she gave many speeches, created the John Lennon Scholarships to sponsor young artists, she funded the Strawberry Fields in Central Park in memory of Lennon and founded the LennonOno Grand for Piece.

And she is still up and running! Now 85 years old, she is still an artist, musician, performer and activist. Ono has been a peace activist since the 1960s (maybe you remember the photo of Ono and Lennon in Amsterdam when they held a “Bed-In for Peace), and is still very vocal on this front. Ono is a prominent speaker on many platforms, talking about racism, sexism and violence. She is the first “Global Autism

Ambassador” of the Autism Speaks Organisation, held a benefit concert to raise money for Japan when it was wrecked by earthquakes and tsunamis in 2011 and is involved in many more activist groups and charities. One of her more famous campaigns as an activist is the “War Is Over!” campaign; originally launched by Lennon and Ono in 1969 on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund, “War Is Over!” is still going strong. Ono holds talks and sells merchandise of which a large percentage of the proceeds is donated to “Spirit Foundations Inc., a foundation created by Ono and Lennon that supports humanitarian programs such as education, youth services and the promotion of peace. She is often invited to give speeches and is still creating both artworks and music, recently having released a sequel to Grapefruit called Acorn.

Yoko Ono is an incredibly important and influential artist. She created performance pieces, music, experimental movies (also on YouTube and worth checking out!), and used her influence to speak up for those in need. She deserves to be remembered as something more than “Lennon’s wife”. She is so much more than that.

On a completely different note, the first issue of PISSWIFE is now available at Athenaeum Bookstore in Amsterdam. Stop by their store to grab yourself a copy and find a full playlist of empowering artists in the zine!

Text: Elizabeth Schippers

 

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