Butterflies

This collection features prints by Yayoi Kusama depicting butterflies. Represented in fluttering groups, or alone and centrally composed, Kusama’s butterflies embody Japanese culture, which believes they carry souls leaving the living realm. Thus, they are vibrant yet fragile representatives of Japanese culture, much like the artist herself.

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Meaning & Analysis

This collection features prints by Yayoi Kusama depicting butterflies, many of which were produced in the 80s-90s, some in an array of colour, others in monochromatic black and white. These prints reflect Kusama’s interest in honouring Japanese tradition: in Japanese culture, butterflies are believed to carry mortal souls as they leave the living realm. Thus, as a symbol of metamorphosis, they are beautiful yet fragile representatives of Japanese culture, much like the artist herself.

Yayoi Kusama has frequently spoken about using art for its metamorphosis-inducing power. Her use of polka dots throughout her art, for example, is a means of coping with her experiences of hallucination, which, as a child manifest in the form of terrifying visions of bright lights, spots and other obliterating patterns. As she states that, ‘Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos’, it is apparent her dots are a means of grounding the self peacefully in what could otherwise be a frightening existential realisation. Much like her dots, then, her butterflies represent the artist’s universe-encompassing spiritual beliefs, which she embodies in her life and art.

Looking at Kusama’s Butterfly, Kusama 82, one might appreciate the similarity to her prints Shells and Shellfish, produced the same year, 1989. Not only do the three works share the same composition, with respective creatures scattered naturalistically on an Infinity Nets style background, they all also reflect the artist’s appreciation for the natural work of evolution. Each butterfly (as with each shell) is of its own ‘variety’ or species, bearing its individuality by its different shape, colours, and patterns. While this array of natural variety obviously attests to Kusama’s wonder at the beautiful inventions of mother nature, it also echoes her statement about earth as ‘only one polka dot […] in the cosmos’. If butterflies represent each mortal soul that leaves earth, they also represent the individuality of each and every human. Yayoi Kusama believes strongly in embracing individuality, as is apparent in her admirably unique, often outlandish fashion sense. Her prints featuring butterflies, then, remind us poignantly that, given we play a very minor role in the grand scheme of life, we should show off and celebrate our individual colours proudly.