By Naomi Serviss
Polka dots are a thing.
No longer relegated to itsy bitsy yellow bikinis.
I spot them on everything.
Socks, shower curtains, office chair covers and furniture.
And that’s even before I leave my apartment.
I blame Yayoi Kusama.
You’ve probably seen her art.
Kusama is the 92-year-old internationally acclaimed Japanese artist who’s still creating.
Despite her suicide attempts.
And residence in a mental institution.
Her story is complex, fascinating and ultimately hopeful.
A neon red, chin length wig is finished with severe bangs.
Her gaze is neutral, cheeks rouged, and lips reddened.
An A-line red and white polka dot dress covers her frame.
Kusama’s been into polka dots nearly all her life.
She’s woven personal tragedy and trauma into her paintings, sculptures and installations.
She was a feminist before the word was coined.
Her brilliance thwarted by
the white art establishment’s inherent sexism and racism.
Anguish transformed into expansive, otherworldly botanicals.
Worldwide exhibitions have drawn millions.
It’s New York’s turn.
Remember when King Tut came to the Met?
That was entertainment!
I expected the installations to be swarmed by Kusama aficionados.
I reserved my New York Botanical Garden ticket months in advance.
It was worth the wait.
Even if it meant being out of my Manhattan comfort zone.
And into Da Bronx.
Wary with pandemic worry, other attendees were masked as well.
My first cultural outing!
I had spent hours poring over Kusama’s memoir.
Once was not enough for her Netflix documentary.
The lush grounds were backdrop to Kusama’s fantastical botanical creations.
It felt like a waking dream.
The weather was temperate.
Maybe a half dozen other people poking around.
Sumptuous, landscaped gardens played second banana to a
Disney-on-acid-inspired orb or a shiny pumpkin writ large.
Majestic, stunning, whimsical and existential,
the awe I felt.
Kusama’s singular fashion-forward appeal was echoed
by a fancifully garbed couple
And maybe a lone visitor or two who wore polka dots in homage.
This past year has given us pause.
The lives lost.
Fatigue from being cooped up.
Friends unhugged. Children missed.
I’m still unfolding from the cramped origami figure I mentally twisted into.
Tense months spent feeling unhinged and crazed are finally quieted.
Like I’m waiting for Guffman to review my actions over the year.
Kusama brought me great joy and hope.
Her exotic wonderland transported me.
Soon my son Ben will be wed.
Katherine, his mate of soul, encouraged him to visit his New York City parentals.
Ben has been eating his weight in good pizza since arriving from Mississippi.
And showing his dad some Akido moves in the living room.
I’m grateful for the beauty in this world, man-made or natural.
Kusama sparked early summer joy in my life.
Ben sparked mid-summer joy in my heart.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com