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Women in Art: Yayoi Kusama, Maya Lin, Zaha Hadid Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 29th, 2021

Yayoi Kusama

A Japanese-American artist, Yayoi Kusama, is known for her unique, “obsessive” style in painting. In her autobiography, Kusama says that “deep in the mountains of Nagano,” where she was born in 1929, she had discovered her style of expression: “ink paintings featuring accumulations of tiny dots and pen drawings of endless and unbroken chains of graded cellular forms” (Kusama). She also notes that her “disconsolate childhood” became the main source of inspiration: she had a dysfunctional family and suffered the symptoms of mental illness, including hallucinations and neurosis (Kusama). This mental problem is considered to define her painting style considerably.

Kusama did not succeed as an artist in Japan and moved to New York in the 1950s. However, her success there was not immediate as well. According to Gamble, “Kusama’s career was held back by her gender and ethnicity.” The main reason for that was the patriarchal and hierarchical nature of the US art world in which ethnic minority women were exposed to discrimination most. Still, she began to gain popularity in the 1960s mainly because of her naked art performances which, however, did not bring any profit (Gamble). Those art pieces revealed Kusama as an artist who questioned sexuality and gender concepts and whose work had its roots in social justice.

Maya Lin

An American architect and sculptor, Maya Lin was born in 1959 in Athens, Ohio, in a family of Chinese immigrants. Both of her parents were artistic individuals: her mother was a poet, and her father was a ceramist (Advameg). Thus, it is not surprising that Lin developed a sense of aesthetics and interest in creative and intellectual endeavors early in childhood. After school, Lin studied architecture at Yale University and commenced one of her most famous projects, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial design, even before graduating from it (Advameg). This work was meant to depict the tragedy of war by listing the names of all soldiers who died and went missing in Vietnam during the war on two black granite walls.

Regardless of the simplicity and the humanistic message of that architecture piece, it was highly criticized by some members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund who wanted to make the monument more patriotic and tried to change the design multiple times. As Lin noted, during the negotiation period, the fund kept her uninformed about the planned alterations (Horowitz). She also stated that their approach was primarily due to differences in age, gender, and ethnicity (Horowitz). This situation demonstrates that, as a young woman, she was not accepted seriously and was exposed to tremendous pressure that made Lin compromise her integrity as an artist.

Zaha Hadid

A famous architect, Zaha Hadid, was born in Iraq in 1950. She was brought up in a multicultural context as her father was a leader of a liberal party and, throughout her childhood, she attended schools that favored diversity (Advameg). It is clear that when Hadid’s family moved to England, her ethnic and cultural background became her distinctive feature. Notably, a visit to ancient Sumerian cities located in southern Iraq during childhood became a major source of inspiration for her later on (Advameg). At the same time, her style in architecture was unlike others. Her designs were unique and frequently were called either “as impractical or as too radical” (Advameg). Due to the unconventionality of her projects, Hadid experienced a period of long rejection.

Hadid also noted that she encountered misogynist attitudes in London and was denied participation in big projects because it was believed that a female architect could not handle them (Thorpe). In the times when Hadid just started her career the situation with gender inequality in the architecture, the industry was even more severe than now as the women’s rights movement only began to gather momentum in the 1970s. However, Hadid’s passion, toughness, and determination defined her future success as a world-class architect.

Works Cited

Advameg. “Encyclopedia of World Biography. Web.

Gamble, Ione. “Vice. 2018. Web.

Horowitz, Rick. “The Washington Post. 1982. Web.

Kusama, Yayoi. Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama. Tate, 2013. Google Books. Web.

Thorpe, Vanessa. “The Guardian. 2013. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Women in Art: Yayoi Kusama, Maya Lin, Zaha Hadid'. 29 May.

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