Interview with KUSAMA-INFINITY filmmaker, Heather Lenz

Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama’s highly popular exhibition Infinite Kusama at the Art Gallery of Ontario has been the talk of the city for months. The exhibition is now in its final weeks of viewing but documentary film, KUSAMA – INFINITY,  by filmmaker Heather Lenz is now screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox that continues to fuel our affection for this fascinating artist.

The film explores the artist’s journey from a conservative upbringing in Japan to her brush with fame in America during the 1960s. It then follows her road to becoming one of the world’s most recognized and successful artists today.

On her first day in New York, she had climbed to the top of the Empire State Building and took in the views of the city. It was then that she made a decision to stand out and become a star.

Kusama battled sexism and racisim in America while her hallucination of polka dots eventually lead her to the Tokyo mental institution where she’s lived for the past 30 years.

We had the opportunity to interview filmmaker Heather Lenz about this documentary.

What makes this documentary different than the others that have been done on Yayoi Kusama?

This film covers the arc of Kusama’s career and life in a way that is unlike anything that’s been done before.

This is the first feature length movie about Kusama made by an American. From the start I felt that Kusama’s contributions to the American art world during the years she lived in New York from the late 50s to the early 70s had not been properly recognized or appreciated and it was particularly important to me to shine a light on that part of her career. For example, in the 1960s she made anti-war Happenings and the press wrote about them in a very superficial way. As a result I wanted to better explain Kusama’s experiences growing up in Japan during WWII. She had to work in a military factory instead of attending school so it makes sense that would feel compelled to protest against the Vietnam war.

It was also a priority for me to tell Kusama’s story in such a way that an audience beyond those already interested in the arts can hopefully find it engaging. Kusama faced a lot of struggles while pursuing her dream of being a successful artist. Anyone who has ever dared to dream big can hopefully relate to that part of her story.

Why do you think so many people are drawn to her work?

I think people recognize the high quality of the work.

What was the most memorable moment you had when speaking with Kusama?

At the end of my first interview with Kusama I told her was the happiest day of my life and she said “mine too.” Even though she was certainly being generous in saying that, it took me many years of working on the film before I finally got to meet her so it was a very exciting and unforgettable day.

Kusama has been in the art scene for many decades. What still fuels her to continue on with her work?

I can’t speak for Kusama, but as a creative person I can’t imagine the urge to make things ever going away.


KUSAMA – INFINITY is now screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

*Image provided by Films We Love PR. Photo credit: Harrie Verstapen



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Covering events, openings and all the deliciousness in Toronto.