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Yayoi Kusama’s Shoe motif has reccurred in sculptures, paintings and prints. For an artist with a playful approach, who refuses labels, her shoe artworks celebrate the joy of self-expression. They also reflect her involvement in the fashion world, evidenced by her collaborations with high-end label, Louis Vuitton.

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Meaning & Analysis

Compared to her 5-foot-tall sculpture, High Heels For Going To Heaven, which grow polka dotted flowers from each shoe, or her sculptures High Heel (Gold), which sprouts phallic forms, Yayoi Kusama’s prints featuring shoes are comparatively less wacky. Yet the recurrence of the shoe (often high-heeled) motif across mediums— from sculptures to paintings to prints—signals the Japanese artist’s continued fascination with self-fashioning through apparel and with the fashion world more broadly.

Yayoi Kusama’s unique fashion sense, which sees her frequently don clothing featuring her own patterns, and always with perfectly neat red hair, has always been an extension of her art. In the early days of her career she would often arrive at her exhibition openings in a kimono, perhaps with a parasol too, in a homage to Japanese culture that simultaneously parodied the reductive and fetishized Western version of the former. Her appearance in public referenced the Hollywood version of a geisha, as yet another way of performatively playing with societal versions of who she should be as a Japanese woman, arriving ultimately at her own highly individualised, self-empowered image of herself.

In her artworks featuring shoes, as in those in the High Heels series, Kusama continues this exploration of the guises of femininity as she places a pair of brightly coloured high heels at the centre of each print. Each print is jauntily bright, using mostly primary colours, and shows the polka-dotted shoes against an Infinity Nets style background. While the prints are, in their bold colours, ostensibly celebration of the self-fashioning that goes into a stereotypically ‘feminine’ appearance, the viewer is left with a lingering sense of the anonymity of that appearance; the shoes sit empty awaiting their unknown wearer.