I went down there, played the drum, called to everyone.
I have found you because you’re there, all of you. I want to hear what you say; I’ll speak what you tell me to. I don’t think this is about love; you are telling me we need a new description. Maybe a new language, but you want to understand it. Everything I say from now on you are saying to me. In many languages, from many faces; I’m your mouth.
I saw you come to me as if you were a god; as if a god were the essence of all us.
I don’t believe we can save our civilization; I do, I do believe it. I don’t want this poem to be beautiful. I do. I have no skills; I have no hope; I don’t want any hope. I simply want to sit here, in this calm. I don’t want the electricity to fail. I don’t want war to come here. I DON’T WANT WAR TO COME HERE! I sat beneath the tree for awhile. There was only one tree left. Here it is pouring rain. The two men are in a contest to take over the world. They will be voted for to make it seem as if this is what we want. Don’t ever speak to me from ecstasy, my life is broken. Tell me what style you like though,
I need to scream: do you have that one? I want a woman to be in office where I can see her. The economy works like mythology, by changing the magic in the story, like you change a person into a tree, a spider, or a computer. The computer weaves faster than Arachne, and outsourced casts a net of loss over us. I see the net, it’s silver, fine, it keeps me from resting; it whispers in my ear with its superconductive powers, you must go to work. I am sporadically employed. I am by nature a peasant: don’t you try to change me. I want you to leave me alone. I am a middle- class westerner, who deserves plenty and calm. I am an Inuit, my world is melting. I’m an African immigrant, trying to go home to Europe, return to security and peace, which I remember from my human past and from longing. I must see a woman hold power, significant power, before I die. You won’t see that. This is no style. None of you are thinking to me in a style. I don’t want to work in this stupid office. Can we destroy the pyramids of power? I mean, they’re made out of dust. You’re all just dust and dried blood, you’re dead. You are not absolute. Why am I carrying a peony, in my mind? I am looking at it, white with pink streaks, to present to the monument of our exalted state. I killed a lot of people. I will always have done that; when I die I will have done that; when I’m dead I will remember that I have done that. I’m not interested in style or syntax or vocabulary. But I am.
They crowd around me in the dark; it’s hard to hear.
I’m crouching inside a dark space, near other bodies, waiting to dock, hoping we’ll make it across this small expanse of water. Too many bodies. I don’t want him to take another wife . . . Do I need him? Do I really have to have this life? I’m screaming for food, I’m asking for grain. There has to be enough for us, so give it to me, I can cook anything; I can cook flour, or dirt. I can cook locusts. I can eat grubs raw. I can chew leaves, but the trees are dried up. This is the story. The trickster is wearing a red shirt. He walks across the space of the story. He says if you make your mark on this piece of paper and give me all your grain, I’ll give you a house and a television, I’ll give you more stories than you’ve ever imagined. Now I have no grain, no house, no telly. The stories swarm in my head; the trickster looks just like me, except he has a bushy tail sticking out from his jeans. I have no words for what I need. I think it is what we need; but do we have to need something? Not very much. I’m starting to see something, I’m starting to hear, but I know I never really arrive. I wanted him to love me, but then that wasn’t enough. We gave ourselves to each other, but then we had done that. Which one of us was more? He was always more. I am the desire you want to have, so you can feel yourself continuously inside the line of desiring unwinding against the horizon leading to infinite nowhere.
Molting, the first rush of June is now September. Prophesy if you dare. I can no longer find any rationale for living. My life is as small as a firefly’s. I am always uncomfortable; often I suffer. I go on wearing this tie, stiff as a hatchet, around my neck. Tied to the tradition of boss and cattle. I want more rice. I want to see and know that rice is beautiful. I don’t want to speak this language that doesn’t know me. What can we do about our world? Why do you all make me struggle? I have to put up with these people who keep forming me. I can’t stop changing as they tell me what to do, even though I resist them; I say I do but I can’t. Change will arrive suddenly for me.
Most of us are slaves, largely by consent. Or, you could say we’re brainwashed: women are. I don’t believe we have it so bad. I do, I work in a shelter for battered women. I submitted to a pharaonic circumcision. I, I have no problems. I’m a distinguished professor in a country that has always had a male president. I support one of the current male candidates. I always wear the clothes that I’m supposed to, for my status. I have no food for my children. I’m well-off, my husband beats me, he’s a wellknown inventor with several patents. Who has changed as a consequence of anything that they know? I’m sure I will change before I die, unless I die today or tomorrow. Can’t we tear this building down, I mean, tear it down? There are so many of us. I propose the founding of a country like Israel for women. I propose the following solution for Afghanistan: airlift out all the women and children who wish it. Convey them to that country, the new one. Pull out the American and European troops and leave the Afghani men there to battle for whatever it is they want. But it isn’t like that! I want to move to the new country right now. My child is dead, and I want to be with him in my thoughts; I want to live with him in my mind.
The light took my face. That’s all I want to think about. I only want these moments between me and the elements. If I couldn’t see, I would still see, I know it. I’m anxious, and my mouth is distorting: I need to wear a hat to cover my hair. I have to cover up a lot of parts of me. Everyone does. The morning-glories have already stopped opening. I want to say something subtle, but I can’t. It’s that, now that no one loves me, I don’t mind. I feel awkward, I don’t know how to stand up among others. Every morning I ask somebody what day of the week it is, to make contact. I’m signalling to others that I’m good. It’s now strange to live in this body. I don’t feel at one with it at all. I’m sure I haven’t always had this kind of body to be in: where precisely am I inside it? I move my toes, they’re not so far away. I don’t want to talk to anyone, but I also have to say that. I’m nervous about succeeding. I think succeeding’s a hoax. I think everything’s a hoax. I want to go back to where I once lived, but it isn’t there any more; that one of me isn’t here. Are we now making a style? I speak like a person in my language, with the wind anxiously hovering, in a receptacle, over my shoulder. I’m taking pills for my anxiety. I get charms from a maribout. I’m trying to make a girl fall in love with me; I’m afraid it won’t work, but it’s a way of making my love take an outer shape. I want to tell you she wears scarlet lipstick, and her shoulders slope down. The nape of her neck is indented. She’s very neat in appearance.
I’m roaring through your mouth, I only roar. I am a wind of energy, I am evil, but I can’t stop and so I rush along, seeking gratification. I won’t stop. I don’t want to. I’ll hack everyone to death that I can see. I’ve been told to cut and kill with my blade. I will do it and do it again; I will never apologize. Why should I be sorry? I am not unnatural, if I just am; and if the blood and smell are everywhere, I must see and smell it again. I have to keep knowing that this extremity is mine. I know there are other things to do, and we chose this. We had to. We just have to. I was inside a house with a gangster with greasy hair: I knew he was going to kill me. And so I attacked him and fought him; I wanted to kill him, kill him to get away. I had had to strip for him, take off my red velvet dress, but I had become too thin to strip for anyone. I can’t be this one who’s just chattel; I can’t be this woman who’s treated like an animal naked in a picture for you, genitals and a face of intelligence, but you can’t see that. You’ve been brought up to think it’s normal for women to be naked everywhere, and you tell them to do this work for you. It’s just more work. A soldier’s heart exploded, and I was covered in his blood, it isn’t an image: the guy has no chest. Who am I here for, for me? I am somewhere in this damned world killing people for you, while you conduct an executive session in a clean clear room with light and glasses of water. That tie again, those ties. YOU HAVE NO PRIVATE LIFE NOW!
No, I don’t have a private life. Or is it everything I think? I don’t seem to want anything others want. I don’t even know if I want something. To be perfectly quiet, still alive with no one pressing me. Or keeping me from eating. I have to have money for food and to replace my appliances. I hate them. I don’t want community. I do. I don’t like other people’s fake sentimentality; I don’t like their politics, or their religion. It smothers me. I, I need to feel something with a group, I mean, I like that. You can build intensity; you can do good. No you can’t; there is no good like that. And nothing’s for women except stupid things to say like ‘She isn’t feminine.’ I see men every- where urging us to let them lead us once again in this time of crisis. I want to walk away. Leave the crisis. Throw out your stuff and sit down somewhere; I’ve got a sandwich, have a bite. I don’t want to eat meat, it stinks, it stinks like dead people on a battlefield. I say the same things all the time because there’s repetition built into time to make it timeless. I helped build it in, I help do everything. I don’t wish I were younger, I was more stupid then. I have no interest in being myself, I just am. I’m doing what I always do with this cornmeal. I’m staring out the back window, the dahlias are up like I like them, again. I can walk out and be saturated with light for a minute. I want everything to be bizarre; I want not to recognize anyone. I want to sing in a voice you don’t own, that you’ve never heard and judged. I don’t want to know where it comes from, even though it comes from me. I don’t want there to be anything to say about it.
I want to be locked in this situation where he threatens me then tells me je t’aime.
I want to be in well-lit rooms with comfortable chairs, but I wish I knew how to live. I’m walking in a forest; I understand trees and plants. I don’t understand the harnessing of nature to light up a city with neon -- that makes me feel like I’m living in your dream. I hate my dress. I want to know the thing that will justify my time, all the time I’ve spent doing shit jobs. Stupid work. I have a ladybug on my palm. I don’t move around very well now. My life has slowed down, and I need to be cared for. I give my sister back something for her care but it isn’t money. We are inside care, because we have to be there -- it’s light and airy, though she gets anxious. I want to tell everyone in the world what I know. I didn’t dream for weeks and then I saw the sun bleed like a Seville orange. My history and civilization are literally melting; everyone knows. Waiting, so they can drill. I already have no point of view except that of the fallen. I have no individuality, because I’m a deadened thing. I want to risk my life for my country. It’s the only idea I can think of. I’ve risked mine for my country all my life, being a poet who is just a poet. I can’t tell you a thing.
At any moment a force from nowhere could rip me out of my life. I could die of traffic or weather, I could die of war or my heart. I have seen several people die. I have seen so many die that their spirits now seem to cling to my back like flies buzzing in my ear only; I carry them with me as I migrate. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know which country I’ll die in. I don’t know what the world will be like when I die. What it will look like. What the air will feel like. I now accept its collapse into an ugly new nature. I saw a hawk in my back yard. I saw a ladder-backed woodpecker two years ago. I’ve seen a western bluebird, and a phainopepla. It’s like a revelation. I don’t know how to stop yelling at the people on the platform. No one is kind to me; no one asks me what’s wrong. I’m looking at them because they’re mean-faced. My face is trying to get somewhere; I’m trying to show you how smart and worthy I am. I see in my mirror that my eyes are the same color they’ve always been. They are for looking, but you see them. I don’t want to starve to death, but I’m starving in order to stay in this country. I’d rather die than be deported. Give me papers, which are so fragile, and so abstract -- why can’t I just live?
Why can’t I just live?
I think the new language must be the inclusion of everyone. It isn’t about technique, it’s about inclusion. I don’t want to be included, but I can’t refrain from speaking. I know I sound plaintive. I sound desperate. I sound happy, even though the world is a frightful dream. I am standing somewhere underground, in an underworld, with all the others. I never wanted this. I am one of many, but I am unique. Saying ‘one of many’ and saying ‘unique’ hurts me. I am just a record player now. I am the dead. Or, I am a dead man. I have never been words, but words have never been words. In language I combine my flesh with yours, and you with mine; my flesh is tender, my skin aches from knowing you, my hand can’t really touch you, but if you say ‘I’ I’ll say ‘I’. I want to say ‘we’ but I can’t. I can; but I think that I won’t do that here. I take a word like ‘morals’ and try to weigh it in my mind. It has no weight today. I think it has, I just accept it. I don’t ever want to leave. I like to be here with the word ‘maintenant’. In this epoch I think that the Chinese are singing. I think the Georgians are unhappy right now. I think my own people are mixed up. I don’t want to be in love. I’m tired of another’s thoughts. I’m not, I can’t stand my own. I wish you didn’t have to go through things I’ve been through. I wish they wouldn’t go to war again. I don’t think war is ever justified, it’s only about death. I am a warrior. I’m young and strong, and I’m here to help you. I’m overwhelmed by your reality. I thought you were words, or a thought.
When I go to say what I think, I don’t want to anymore. I don’t feel like I am where you are; I’m not in the world except by appearance. I don’t care if my words make your sense. I’m communicating with blank. I want to say it in beauty, or in ugliness. I like the beauty of being restored to myself, in the pollen light, if it will stay for us in the future. I don’t know that it will. I think we had to be so many once we made machines, and I love us, but I’ve always loved the other species too, the ones that are saying goodbye. I don’t know what to do. I’m always saying the same thing, because it’s so important. I’m not trying to define us, and are we different from those we kill? I didn’t mean to kill a thing. I walk through the program feeling blue; I hate the program today. I don’t want to call the electrician, he always hits on me. I brought four children into the world. Some people have fifteen. I hate makeup. I like it. I think politics is money, in the Mahgreb, in France, and in the United States. I had some money for awhile, but I spent it on my kids. I’ve always done my job by the seat of my pants. Why am I alive? I think god wanted you to live. I don’t listen when someone says god. I don’t want to talk about god. I’m god, as much as it’s a word. I have a job that’s outmoded, I care about words. I don’t care about them because you already know what I mean. You read my mind. I care because they’re beautiful. I’m talented with them, like a musician is with notes, but there’s no system. It’s magic.
I’m so crazy I can’t know anyone anymore. I listen to voices, see people who aren’t tangible to others; they sustain me, and I need them. Who’s to say who’s really here? I’m calling to him while I’m working, can’t he hear my loving thought? I know no other thing that means him but flower, he is my flower. I hear voices in my head continuously, at least one of them sounds like me. I can’t hear myself properly -- recorded I sound different. I can see my body from the neck down, but I can’t see my back, or my face. I am walking south. I am going west. I breathe in allergies. My lips are sealed, though I’m speaking. Everything I think’s private. I don’t want the dead or telepaths to hear my mind. I want her to love me. I am able to reach someone by thinking towards them, partly in words. I send forth my thoughts. I think a thought shape, a flow and cloud, touch gold. I touch someone by thinking. I have corneas and lenses on my thoughts. I have stone grey eyes. I have brown-black eyes and night-black skin with a purple-brown sheen. I’m standing next to a pearl-skinned one with flax hair. We’re the extremes of our animal; we will never see our own bodies, existing for the eyes of others. But I have my thoughts. I love to touch quartz. I place the azure next to the vermillion. I gasp at colors that only our species knows, cochineal, gold leaf, or saffron, lapis, green lake. Have I come from another world to inhabit this body of mine?
I’m afraid the way I think is an anthropological relic. I always reflect my tribe or tribes. I want us to be better people. I scream, Don’t touch me! I painted my face white to mourn for them. I couldn’t stop thinking, my thoughts kept attacking my head; I was my angry thoughts, but I also watched them. I don’t think you understand what a form is. It’s what exists and you’re seeing it or reading it, listening: try it on its own terms. I killed her because she had been raped, I was supposed to. I’ll never get over it, I’m going to defend it forever. I want to touch a phantom, it’s the grey dove of truth, Inca or Mourning. Or Scaled. White flies up in my own breast: do you hear me? I need to know the truth. I was once young and beautiful, but that’s of no interest to me. I was a handsome man with glowing skin. I am so fragile I can’t speak. I have no food. Can you hear me, all of you? I lost some fingers from frostbite, I would get drunk and fall asleep on the street. I’m dead I think and don’t have any more memories. I was tortured so I could become a man. I think normal means whatever the people say, but I’m not gonna say it. Is it normal for me to starve? Maybe here in this place that’s always in drought. I was flooded out. I’m waiting to be rescued by boat. For days and nights I didn’t know if I wanted to live; my whole tribe was dead. So, I was the tribe, I had to live. When I die, a wreath will be placed on us. I must be more than my tribe. I see that woman’s back begging on our street. I think she is Roma. I can’t make my hair go into a shape I like. I know so much, but do others?
I expect to hear voices forever, even after I’m dead. Everyone was raping me there in that field, crows or ravaging tatters all over my soul. I can barely walk now; I don’t even know who to hate. I know what’s happening, but I let others direct me. I let others say what our laws and institutions are. I want to be lawless; I want to be alone. I’ll pay taxes as a woman, if you promise me equality, parity. If not, why should I pay? I ran across the room to my mother; I was bleeding from my forehead in a thin stream. I love that color of green, as dark as you can get. I want to be in a dark green place. I caught tadpoles out there at that oasis and put them in a jar, they have flat little heads. Every- one’s thinking something different I believe, everyone’s completely different. If you kill me in war, you kill a unique person with memories that light up inside me in fiery messages from my past, my electric past. I hear a buzzing wire in my head. I’m sickened by all the suffering I’m aware of. If I can’t speak for everyone, who can I speak for, a category? I can’t accept an identity others give me; I won’t be your person. I rest all night in the eye of a hurricane. I have seen so much as a human. Is there no one, nothing outside us, to whom I can show what we know? Is there no way I can go outside myself, if outside myself is only more of us?
I went to a place like another planet where I felt good without wanting something. I went to the top of a mountain and sat down alone. I wonder who I will know when I die, if anyone. Is death human?
You used to take my breath away. Now no one does.
I don’t want to bother anyone anymore, I try to stay still. I have a fatal illness that will eventually be painful. I don’t believe I’ll ever leave: will I really leave? I think there’s another mind out there beyond us. I don’t, I think it’s in me. I think the other’s in me. If I find a you inside me, will it be the human -- the human potential -- or will it be the morning star? I am promising to be good again. I am seeing the words I say. When I leave to live in printed words, who am I? I know I’m covered in old flesh and my hair is white. I have so many ideas! I’m so full of thought I can’t remember what I look like. I will walk safely and in peace from now on. If I can have peace I won’t need much else, if others will allow me peace: isn’t peace a human right? To walk where I want without others minding? I’m a woman and I can’t go where I want without being noticed. I want to be in my mind; I want to move through this air like a slow bird.
Will I always be speaking here? I have something important to say, but it’s just that when I was a child, I went somewhere and saw a kitten and felt really good. I’m full of a lot of souls, but I remain singular. I’m tired of my anger, do humans need anger? They have to struggle against each other. Do they? I have always wanted to be outrageous, but outrageous seems to be large, the biggest sculpture in the world. I would go in my mind where the others wouldn’t come, but then they came. I let them in because they needed me. I must need you, but why? I don’t know. I don’t take anything for granted. I don’t want to believe, and I don’t. I don’t ever want to be corny. I’m sentimental and I like it. I take a thought and hold it close and pet it. I’m dying on this parched field, I know that I will rise up and fly. I can’t remember my body from before it was skinny. What will fly up is me and will not look like anything. It won’t have to eat. I am looking forward to existence without eating and without serving men. Go out and tell women to vote for me, he says. I want to vote for a tree, or a star, or a bear. I want to tear this building down. I want to have another cup of coffee. And then someone said to me, Why are you so fierce? But I’m not that, that’s only in comparison, inside a framework of our invention. Okay, I have to flee the storm again. Or I could stay. I am being hounded for my beliefs. I’m struggling to tell you, I’m always in mothballs. I want to migrate, but there’s nowhere left to go. If I could only find an unclaimed space. If I could only dream from the beginning! I have love, and I’m afraid to die. I don’t have love, and I’m not afraid to die. I just want to sit here forever with thoughts drifting through, trying not to make my life finite. But I’m beating on a drum. For you.
THE MOST SATISFYING READ I've experienced so far in 2016 may well be A Picture of Everyone I love Passes Through Me with collages by Lynn Behrendt, text mixed by John Bloomberg-Rissman and remixed by Lynn Behrendt. Almost as soon as I began reading and perusing the book, I began making notes for a review (which I hadn't planned on doing prior to opening the book!). It's that inspirational! To wit, here's the book and my notes next to my dishwashing liquid -- I had to forgo doing the dishes for the review:
Look for that review in next issue of Galatea Resurrects. Dear Other Reviewers, the deadline is coming up at June 30!
It was not by accident that 87-year-old Yayoi Kusama became the ‘world’s most popular artist’. When she arrived in New York in 1957, aged 27, the daughter of a wealthy and conservative family, with 2,000 of her artworks in tow, she was determined to conquer the male-centric art world. She had already overcome significant obstacles at home in Japan; as a child her Mother took away her pencils and inks and refused to let the young Kusama—wearing then a similar Paige-boy bob as she still sports today—create at all. When Kusama arrived in New York, she was swept up in the halcyon days of the hippie age; she labored relentlessly, organizing happenings, protest performances, fashion shows (at her own boutique) and orgies in the spirit of peace and love. She was included, alongside contemporaries Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, in the first exhibition of Pop Art, at Green Gallery. She rallied for civil rights, anti-war and sexual liberation causes (she once wrote a letter to Richard Nixon, offering him sex in return for ending the Vietnam war) and that would become a framework for understanding her works as psychedelic expressions of a resolute politic.
Kusama was successful, but it did not bring comfort—or complacence. Since childhood, she had experienced undulating visions of her surroundings, anxiety-inducing hallucinations. In one interview, she recalls the overwhelming feeling of seeing flowers, and then seeing hundreds of flowers, “I wanted to eat them” she says, as though consumption would allow to control them. This psychological disturbance led to a lifelong interest in the infinite, conveyed most effectively in her immersive ‘infinity’ installations, where lights and mirrors disorient and dazzle, enveloping the viewer in their surroundings. To see Kusama now as a political artist—as she continues to be framed--perhaps denies her work of its inherent innocent charm. Times indeed have changed—but as she grows older, Kusama’s work has become less critical, less cynical—setting her apart from her Pop Art peers—and more imbued with a childlike optimism, which can prove problematic when viewed through the prism of western thought, and its exigencies for irony and bitterness. In the last seven decades Kusama has been fastidiously repeating polka dots, phalluses, and pumpkins—on canvas and clothing, in sculptures and room-sized installations—she indicates, if there’s anything persistently political, it is the obsessive and fetishistic nature of the contemporary psyche. (Search the designated hashtag #instaKusama as a case in point.)
Yayoi Kusama, Kusama with Dots Obsession, 2012. Installation View: Kusama's solo exhibition "YAYOI KUSAMA ETERNITY OF ETERNAL ETERNITY” at Matsumoto City Museum of Art, Nagano, Japan. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York.
Throughout her career, searching for an expression for infinity is ever-present and is linked to Kusama’s reflections on the eternal and the cosmic. Every entity can be represented by a dot, a way to obliterate the troublesome self, and to represent the evanescent. At Victoria Miro, this is reflected in pieces from her ongoing painting series, My Eternal Soul, started in 2009. Already into the hundreds, Kusama’s aim, again, is the infinite: “I want to keep painting even after I die,” she says. Also on show at the gallery’s Wharf Road location, in East London are pumpkin sculptures, including the first mirror pumpkin room the artist has created since 1991. The artist has been returning to the form since the 1980s, considering it replete with ‘unpretentious’ warmth and humor, and a symbol from her childhood in provincial Japan, where her family cultivated seeds. In the walk-in installation, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, infinity is not terrifying but joyful—that her hallucinations cause the artist deep suffering is not evident in the work itself.
Yayoi Kusama, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, Installation, Yayoi Kusama, 25 May – 30 July 2016, Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, M1 7RW. Courtesy KUSAMA Enterprise, Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London.
Also in Europe is a substantial survey that just opened at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. It equally emphasizes the profundity of Kusama’s work with the infinite. Her first Infinity Net paintings, made in New York—large canvases covered with white semi-circles, resembling the mesh of a giant net—are examples of the paradox of infinity, at once protective and suffocating, present too in the painstaking process of creating them, which recalls the ritualistic art making of Zen Buddhists. The exhibition, In Infinity, also dedicates a large portion of the retrospective to her work from the 1980s onwards, a period that evolves from the overtly political objectives of her work in New York, protest against war, capitalism and sexual oppression, to a more personal obsession with the ineluctable.
Yayoi Kusama, Mirror Room (Pumpkin), 1992. View at Moderna Museet/ArkDes, Stockholm, as a part of the exhibition Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity, 2016. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York. Foto: Åsa Lundén/Moderna Museet.
At both exhibitions, though, it’s the psychotropic Mirrored Rooms—first exhibited in 1965—that attract audiences and have made her one of the best-known artists of our time. Why are the mirrored rooms so compelling? Their irresistible allure has attracted crowds queuing around the block to get in, with visitors waiting to take their infinity selfies—making the work proliferate further into infinity online. The work consumes its criticism.
Yayoi Kusama, Compulsion Furniture (Accumulation), ca 1964. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore, Victoria Miro Gallery, London, David Zwirner, New York.
By the time Kusama left New York to return to Japan in the early 1970s, her obsessive tendencies had made the artist ill. She was exhausted, and soon after she returned she was hospitalized for panic attacks and hallucinations (she still lives in the same psychiatric institute, voluntarily, and keeps a studio close by). Art has been a refuge for Kusama, a way to overcome her fears and deal with her disturbances, and herein lies the maternal magic of her work, where she absorbs the viewer into her safe place, where the borders of time and space dissolve into an infinite number of tiny, glowing lights.
In Yemen, internally displaced children stand outside their family tent after the family fled their home in Saada province and found refuge in Darwin camp, in the northern province of Amran. Photo: UNHCR/Yahya Arhab
20 June 2016 – The number of people displaced from their homes due to conflict and persecution last year exceeded 60 million for the first time in the United Nations’ history, a tally greater than the combined populations of the United Kingdom, or of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, says a new report released on World Refugee Day today.
The Global Trends 2015 compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes that 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from 59.5 million a year earlier.
The tally comprises 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries.
Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 people globally is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker or internally displaced – putting them at a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent.
On average, 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, four times more than a decade earlier, when six people fled every 60 seconds.
Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produce half the world’s refugees, at 4.9 million, 2.7 million and 1.1 million, respectively.
Colombia had the largest numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), at 6.9 million, followed by Syria’s 6.6 million and Iraq’s 4.4 million.
While the spotlight last year was on Europe’s challenge to manage more than one million refugees and migrants who arrived via the Mediterranean, the report shows that the vast majority of the world’s refugees were in developing countries in the global south.
In all, 86 per cent of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate in 2015 were in low- and middle-income countries close to situations of conflict.
Worldwide, Turkey was the largest host country, with 2.5 million refugees. In terms of the refugee-to-population ratio, Lebanon has the highest proportion, with nearly one refugee for every five citizens.
Distressingly, children made up an astonishing 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015, with many separated from their parents or travelling alone, UNHCR said.
With anti-refugee rhetoric so loud, it is sometimes difficult to hear the voices of welcome. But these do exist, all around the world
“Our responses to refugees must be grounded in our shared values of responsibility sharing, non-discrimination, and human rights and in international refugee law, including the principle of non-refoulement,” UN Secretary-General said in his message on the Day.
“World Refugee Day is a moment for taking stock of the devastating impact of war and persecution on the lives of those forced to flee, and honouring their courage and resilience,” he said, noting that it is also a moment for paying tribute to the communities and States that receive and host them, often in remote border regions affected by poverty, instability and underdevelopment, and beyond the gaze of international attention.
Last year, more than one millionrefugees and migrants arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean, in unseaworthy dinghies and flimsy boats. “Thousands did not make it – tragic testimony to our collective failure to properly address their plight,” Mr. Ban said.
He stressed that meanwhile, divisive political rhetoric on asylum and migration issues, rising xenophobia, and restrictions on access to asylum have become increasingly visible in certain regions, and the spirit of shared responsibility has been replaced by a hate-filled narrative of intolerance.
“With anti-refugee rhetoric so loud, it is sometimes difficult to hear the voices of welcome. But these do exist, all around the world,” he said, acknowledging an extraordinary outpouring of compassion and solidarity shown by host communities.
The UN chief drew attention to the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on addressing large population movements on 19 September, which he said will offer an historic opportunity to agree a global compact, with a commitment towards collective action and greater shared responsibility for refugees at its core.
This year, hopeful signs are hard to find
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that each year, UNHCR seeks to find a glimmer of hope in the global statistics, but “this year the hopeful signs are hard to find.”
He warned that instead of burden sharing, nations are closing their borders and that instead of political will, there is political paralysis. And humanitarian organizations like his are left to deal with the consequences, while at the same time struggling to save lives on limited budgets.
Yet, there is cause for hope. Citing host communities, individuals, and families opening their homes, he said “these ordinary people see refugees not as beggars, competitors for jobs, or terrorists – but as people like you or me whose lives have been disrupted by war.”
“UNHCR sees 2016 as a watershed moment for the refugee cause,” he stressed. As wars spiral out of control, this must be a year to take collective responsibility and action to end the conflicts which force people to flee and also a year to help the millions of people whose lives have been destroyed by violence.
“World leaders can no longer watch passively as so many lives are needlessly lost,” he said, also noting that the upcoming General Assembly meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants will put all to the test.
For its part, UNHCR launched last week the #WithRefugees initiative to generate momentum towards that meeting, he added.
Numbers do not capture hardship of displaced
Mogens Lykketoft, UN General Assembly President, said the numbers do little justice to the pain and trauma that this crisis is causing for individual women, men and children across our world.
“They fail to capture the hardship of those who flee and the fear of those who wait anxiously behind. They fail to capture the hopelessness of those held in detention centres or the final thoughts of those lost at sea without even a whisper,” he said.
The numbers do little justice to the pain and trauma that this crisis is causing for individual women, men and children across our world
He highlighted several points, including that the international community must intensify its efforts to find political solutions to conflicts, as they are the main drivers of humanitarian need. The UN and other institutions and agencies must be provided with sufficient and predictable resources needed to fulfil their mandates and respond to the incredible levels of need.
In 2014, children constituted 51 per cent of the refugee population, with half of these missing out on primary education, he said. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind has placed a new obligation on all to reach those in situations of conflict, disasters, vulnerability and risk.
Citing that almost nine out of every 10 refugees, 86 per cent, are in regions and countries considered economically less developed, he urged the international community to enhance its solidarity with refugee hosting countries.
Given the scale of the crisis, current levels of third-country resettlement need to be reviewed, he pointed out. In 2014, only 15 per cent of the global resettlement needs were met. At least fifty thousand persons, including thousands of children died in the past two decades while seeking to cross international borders. Governments must create safe, orderly and regular pathways for refugees to move to other countries.
Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are of grave concern. All must speak out in the face of serious violations of international law. Xenophobic and racist rhetoric seems not only to be on the rise, but also to be becoming more socially and politically acceptable. This needs to change, he said.
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Ted Greenwald, RIDE THE BIG AIRPLANE
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