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Peace love pumpkins header
Illustration: Chiladen

Peace, love, and pumpkins

  • Article
  • PHI Foundation
By  Zoe Compton  &  Kim Johnson

The PHI Foundation’s Education Department created an Activity Kit to accompany Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE. Taking inspiration from the creative Activity #1 in the Activity Kit, Kim Johnson and Zoe Compton created a poetic collage to explore what they believe pumpkins would have to say about Kusama. Kim wrote the poem and Zoe subsequently made the collage.

Poem: The voices of pumpkins

As I sit here, surrounded by my kin, I count aloud the things I see
One curious little girl, with dots and flowers on her mind
Two wooden pencils, intertwined in my vines
Three blinks of the eye, that shape a new reality 

As I sit here, bathing in the autumn sun, I count the things I see
One disapproving motherly gaze
Two teardrops, born out of fear and confusion
Three days worth of drawings, torn to smithereens

As I sit here, neatly placed on a white pedestal, I count the things I see
One familiar face, veiled in red bangs
Two million digits, imprinted on my skin
Three rounds of applause, in celebration of me

Collage essai nature

Theme: Nature

This is an essay elaborating on the theme of nature in Yayoi Kusama’s work.

Yayoi Kusama’s fascination with the natural world began at a young age, as she was growing up on her parents’ seed and flower farm in Matsumoto, Japan. She took refuge and found artistic inspiration in the vast expanse of natural environments that were lush and overflowing with flowers and plants. The boundless landscapes promised Kusama that nothing in nature exists alone—we are each a small part of an infinite universe, in a multiplicity of universes.

Kusama began having visions at the age of ten, believing that flowers were multiplying and speaking to her. With these experiences, she came to understand the human and non-human world as equal living entities. Through her artwork, Kusama welcomes us into her world, where we become one with nature.

She takes comfort in certain organic elements, such as pumpkins. She first drew them as a child and then later, as an adult, began making sculptures of them. Kusama found their colour, texture, and whimsical form to be human-like, and this brought her joy. Soon, they began to stand in as self-portraits. The spirituality that she associates with pumpkins brings her back down to earth, and she uses her art to catalyze this positive feeling. The reflective bronze surface of the sculptures implicates the viewer, harnessing Kusama’s ideal in merging with the pumpkins.

Her depictions of the cycles of life and death invite us to reflect on our ever changing lives and environments. This is especially discernable in Kusama’s My Eternal Soul (2009–present) collection of paintings, in which each work is a universe from which life emerges (and the titles are often related to death). Her famous polka dots, which can be found in her work throughout her career, highlight a cosmic multiplicity: from the expanse of a field of flowers to the immensity of the universe, our microscopic presence in a macroscopic world.

If Kusama has one goal in life, it is to promote peace and love in the universe. She creates her paintings as though she is writing poetry—it comes to her naturally and without a predetermined structure. It is as though they are created instinctively, driven by all of the artist’s emotions. Her visions and deep affinity for nature have allowed her to listen to what it has to say. If more people opened their minds to listen to elements of nature, what would they have to say?

If the grass could speak, what would it say about the weather?

If the rain could speak, what would it say about pollutants in the atmosphere?

If the trees in a city could speak, what would they say to the trees in a forest?

If pumpkins could speak, what would they say about Yayoi Kusama?


Movements: Yayoi Kusama is a tool designed by the PHI Foundation’s Department of Education to encourage visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition Yayoi Kusama: DANCING LIGHTS THAT FLEW UP TO THE UNIVERSE.


Zoe Compton
Zoe is an educator and project manager at the PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art. She completed a master’s degree in Art Education from Concordia University, exploring themes of settler decolonization and her ancestors’ impact on the environment in Prince Edward Island through an arts-based thesis. Her teaching philosophy is grounded in promoting environmental awareness and accessibility, which she puts to practice at the Visual Arts Centre in Westmount, the Pointe-Saint-Charles Art School, and in other community settings. Zoe also works as a Programme Assistant for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, supporting Programme Officers and their work to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals with various networks and partners.

Kim Johnson
Kim Johnson is an educator and project manager at the PHI Foundation. She completed a BA in Art Education at Concordia University in 2016. Kim is involved in the democratization of visual art through her educational and artistic projects in various community centres and cultural institutions in Montréal, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as a cultural mediator. As a visual artist, she draws her inspiration from human connections, the feminine and nature. Kim is particularly fond of painting and linocut.

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