My Soul Blooms Forever: Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama's colourful exhibition comes to Qatar

Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama exhibited in Qatar
5 min read
15 February, 2023

Polka dots, pumpkins, and infinity rooms are the trademark of Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. In Doha, Qatar, even palm trees are joining in the pop art fun of the Middle East’s largest outdoor exhibition of its kind.

For My Soul Blooms Forever, organised by Qatar Museums, the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art have been taken over by Yayoi Kusama’s colourful and creative works, showcasing nine installations.

In 2021, the Years of Culture programme – a yearly cultural exchange between Qatar and countries around the world – saw Jeff Koons exhibit his larger-than-life installations and in 2022 it stayed quirky and bright with Yayoi Kusama’s florally inspired exhibition.

"Accomplished in numerous ways of expression, from sculpture, painting, video, fashion, and more, over the years Yayoi Kusama has become best loved for her polka dots and infinity rooms, both reflecting a way to self-obliterate, and become one with the environment"

Born in 1929 in Japan, Yayoi Kusama presented her first solo show in 1952 in Japan, and then in New York in 1959. In the 1960s, she made a worldwide name for herself through avant-garde happenings, performances, exhibitions, and events.

Accomplished in numerous ways of expression, from sculpture, painting, video, fashion, and more, over the years she has become best loved for her polka dots and infinity rooms, both reflecting a way to self-obliterate, and become one with the environment.

Having suffered from hallucinations, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and other mental health issues such as Schizophrenic tendencies from childhood, Yayoi Kusama has lived – voluntarily – in a mental institution since 1977, working in a studio just across the road from it.

Having used art as a way of coping with mental illness, and soon becoming successful with her art spanning both the pop art as well as minimalism genres, she is one of the most prolific artists around.

Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees
Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees [photo credit: Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey/Yayoi Kusama]

For My Soul Blooms Forever, Qatar Museums brought together a variety of Yayoi Kusama’s work, all connected by the theme of infinity and polka dots, showcasing some work dating back to 1966, and more recent installations. And the chosen setting of the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art, the 62-acre MIA Park which spans around it, plus the large Al-Riwaq Gallery set within the grounds, offered a perfect canvas for the varied installations.

The MIA Park is designed to lead from the museum in a nearly circular curve through the green water of Doha Bay, with dhows moored within the circle, and the end of the park culminating in a point, highlighted by the sculpture entitled 7, by Richard Serra.

In front of the Museum of Islamic Art, the fountain holds the Narcissus Garden, 1,300 floating steel spheres reflecting the sunshine with sparks of light, an installation first shown at the 1966 Venice Biennale.

My Soul Blooms Forever
My Soul Blooms Forever [photo credit: Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey/Yayoi Kusama]

Nearby stands I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020), a starfish-like creature, red with white polka dots and a yellow, naïve face, which was first shown at the New York Botanical Gardens in 2020.

Within the Museum of Islamic Art, located on the veranda overlooking the dhow harbour and the curve of the Doha Corniche, is a set of shiny steel pumpkins, simply entitled Pumpkin, with blue, green, and red stems respectively, and hollowed-out polka dots. This is the only installation, which you are allowed to touch, and kids can use the holes as perfect climbing steps.

Dancing Pumpkin
Dancing Pumpkin [photo credit: Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey/Yayoi Kusama]

Outside, the walk which follows the shape of the park is lined by several dozen palm trees on either side, and each one’s stem has been dressed in a red cover with white polka dots creating Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2022), making for a playful addition to the park.

The roughly one-mile-long path leads past a set of untitled pumpkins in the grassy hollow in front of Al-Riwaq Gallery, to the largest of the exhibits, Dancing Pumpkin (2020), a yellow and black polka-dotted pumpkin with tentacle-like legs reaching up as if in motion, set on the mound overlooking the bay and the Doha Skyline.

Next to it, there is My Soul Blooms Forever (2019), the set of five six-foot tall whimsical flowers, giving the name to the spread-out exhibition.

The Al-Riwaq Gallery plays host to one of the immersive installations that made Kusama’s known around the world: An Infinity Room, with the title Dancing lights that flew up to the universe (2019).

A small room, entirely lined with mirrors with strands of LED lights suspended from the ceiling allows visitors to be transported into the imagination, which drives Kusama, her vision of infinity, endless reflection and – for a while at least – seemingly becoming part of the universe. The colour of the lights changes, and standing in the centre of the room, allows you to imagine a little bit of what it must be like to be in space, with the endless universe and its stars twinkling infinitely all around you.

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This infinity room is not one of Yayoi Kusama’s larger installations, but the bonus of it being in Qatar, as compared to the still ongoing installation at the Tate Modern, London, for example, is that you don’t have long queues and time pressures. The curators are happy to allow you extra time.

And, if you still have not had your fill of polka dots quite yet, then the large Louis Vuitton store in the Place Vendome Mall showcases the current collaboration between Kusama and Louis Vuitton, with many of the iconic logo accessories embellished with colourful dots, and a few pumpkins in and around the entrance to the store.

Yayoi Kusama: My Soul Blooms Forever exhibition is on display until March 1 

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey is a freelance journalist, author and translator. Ulrike specialises in travel and lifestyle, with a leaning toward the Middle East. Her bylines have appeared in international publications such as  BBC TravelPositive NewsGood HousekeepingLonely PlanetTravel + LeisureNat GeoThe Independent,  Fodor’sTIMEMarriott Bonvoy Traveler, and many more.

Follow her on Twitter: @ULemminWoolfrey