The childhood WW2 trauma that inspired Yoko Ono

But for Ono, art has never been about a singular mode of expression, which is why her work can be found in multiple forms. “What’s unique about my mother’s work is that she didn’t think about art as a specific medium,” Sean says. “She felt that art and creativity were conceptual, and so it almost didn’t matter which medium they were manifested in.” In 1955, she performed Lighting Piece for her friends and family before publicly performing it in 1961, then incorporated it as part of a musical performance in Japan in 1962. She eventually included the instructions in Grapefruit, and then recorded a silent film of the action in 1966, titled No.1 (Match). 

Some of Ono’s most notable artworks are also performances. In 1964, at Yamaichi Concert Hall in Kyoto, she performed Cut Piece, where she placed scissors in front of her and invited viewers to cut off a piece of her clothes. “Cut Piece has increasingly been understood as a pivotal early work of feminist art history, although it is open to multiple readings, including those posed by Ono herself,” writes Bingham. “During her early performances in Kyoto and Tokyo in 1964 and at DIAS in London in 1966, Ono’s performance of the work was accompanied by a large handwritten sign that read, ‘My body is the Scar of My Mind’, and Ono’s own quote that, “It was a form of giving, giving and taking”. 

Ono later performed Cut Piece in Paris in 2003 at the age of 70, 39 years after the initial performance, which her son attended. “Watching it is like watching one of the most terrifying and engaging performances I’ve ever seen,” he says. “There’s the danger of the scissors and the vulnerability of the woman sitting there.”

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