This is the second of our blog posts relating to Yayoi Kusama and film, and here we present one of Kusama’s own films, Self-Obliteration. It was made in 1968 on 16mm film with filmmaker Jud Yalkut, and won prizes in the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium as well as the Maryland and Ann Arbor Film Festivals in the US

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At this stage in her career, Yayoi Kusama was living in New York and struggling to make a living. America at this time was undergoing a cultural shift, after Civil Rights and Vietnam protests lead to the rise of hippie culture, and Kusama embraced this by creating a series of ‘happenings’, starting with audio-visual-light performances where she painted models in bikinis with fluorescent paints under black lights. Self-Obliteration was made using footage from some of these happenings.  

Kusama herself stars in the 24 minute film, which starts with her in rural upstate New York, covering animals, plants and a naked male body with polka dots, and goes on to show body-painting happenings in the artist’s installation environments.

It was so popular in arthouse film circles that Kusama organised repeated screenings and set up a company to sell prints from the film by mail order. 

We’ve got a 2 minute 53 second extract, but the film can be seen in its entirety in the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern.