Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama has apologized for anti-Black comments made more than 20 years ago, as she opens a hit new show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
“I deeply regret using hurtful and offensive language in my book,” Kusama, who is 94, said in an exclusive statement to the Chronicle provided by SFMOMA last week. “My message has always been one of love, hope, compassion, and respect for all people. My lifelong intention has been to lift up humanity through my art. I apologize for the pain I have caused.”
In a passage of her book, the pop artist describes a little Black girl she saw in photos as having an “exotic face.” She also wrote of the U.S. that she “envisioned America as a land full of these strange, barefooted children and virgin primeval forests.”
The SFMOMA show, called “Infinite Love,” debuted on Oct. 14 and is already sold out through November. Kusama has garnered a cult following for her vibrant polka dot motifs, her Instagrammable exhibits and her image as a quirky pop icon.
The problematic comments resurfaced after a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed article by columnist Soleil Ho — which ran with the headline “SFMOMA is set to have a blockbuster show. But what about the artist’s racist writings?” — called out Kusama’s past writing.
Ho said that SFMOMA has not acknowledged the “elephant in this polka-dotted room.”
“Despite the global cultural branding that depicts Yayoi Kusama as a beacon of love and a barrier-breaking woman of color, the artist has a racism problem,” Ho wrote in the Chronicle.
Museum director Chris Bedford wrote in an email to the Chronicle, “SFMOMA stands firmly against these and all anti-Black sentiments.”
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