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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Six Hugely Impressive Life Achievements of Yoko Ono

If your mental manilla folder marked 'Yoko Ono' only has that old Simpsons episode in it, read on.

By Jacqueline Breen
November 06, 2013
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By Jacqueline Breen
November 06, 2013
  shares

If your mental manilla folder marked 'Yoko Ono' only has that old Simpsons episode in it, read on.

For a woman who once inspired so much hate, Yoko Ono has a lot of love to give. Today the 80-year-old is cherished as an artist, musician and peace activist with global influence, but she was, when most first heard of her, Beatles fan enemy number one. She spiked John Lennon's morning English Breakfast with her boho voodoo, they said, and changed the band forever.

That's how she was portrayed in that Simpsons ep, too, as the kooky banshee who seduced Barney Rubble away from the barbershop quartet. It's a testament to Yoko's talent, energy and batshit crazy charisma that her legacy transcends that nonpareil historical record.

An exhibition of her work is opening next month at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. She's an enigmatic figure, containing multitudes, so here are some facts and figures that might help order your Ono thoughts.

She Survived World War II

In 1933 Yoko was born into a prosperous family descended from a Japanese emperor. She shuttled between San Francisco and New York as her banker father was transferred, but lived mainly in Tokyo. She was 12 when the city was fired-bombed by the Americans. As many as 130,000 people were killed in two days. I suspect this might be why she doesn't like war so much.

She Studied at Sarah Lawrence

Like that other eminent feminist Kat from Ten Things I Hate About You, Yoko enrolled at the east coast liberal arts college Sarah Lawrence, studying music. She'd transferred from Tokyo's Gakushuin University, where she was the first woman to enter the philosophy department. It seems she didn't attend many classes though; she was busy writing radical poetry and lying on top of John Cage's piano during his performances in New York.

Some of Her Early Artworks Sound Really Cool

And some of it sounds crap, but who cares? It was New York in the '60s, what's not to like?

John Lennon first met Yoko at a preview of her exhibition in London in 1966. He was taken in by one particular work, in which a ladder leads up to a black canvas on the ceiling; up there was a spyglass on a chain, which revealed the word 'yes' written on the roof, which is great. More recently, she's been installing Wish Trees around the world and inviting visitors to hang wishes, written on little cards, on the trees' branches. It's a bit naff, as evidenced by this note left by Pharrell on the New York installation: "Wishing 4 all who seek to experience the shift of widespread illumination will have the inner stillness to share in the most momentous aspect of the ether." What?

Her Honeymoon Was Spent in Bed, Away from War

That earnest positivity pulses through most of her pieces, and perhaps none more so than the infamous honeymoon 'Bed-In for Peace'. After they married in Gibraltar, Spain, in 1969, Yoko and Lennon curled up on white fluffy sheets in an airy Amsterdam hotel room and smiled for the cameras. The couple were protesting against the Vietnam War, they told the assembled media, and they thought they could change the world ("start a revolution from [their] bed," is how Oasis put it). The image probably had more artistic impact than political, but that, of course, counts for something. She's still campaigning for peace, on the macro and micro levels; at the MCA exhibition you're invited to write your most honest love letter to your mum.

She's a Really, Really Nice Lady, It Seems

Asked which artists inspired her today, Yoko gave a big shout out to, well, all artists working today. "I just love anybody that does anything in the art world and the artistic world," she said in an interview. "We just have to keep working and I want everyone in the field to know that we support them." That said, she does single out Lady Gaga for some love. "She has a very lovely bottom," Yoko said of Gaga, after it graced the stage with her. "I think she's wonderful. John would have loved her, because she's an artist, she's fearless and she pushes every limit, which we both always adored. She has played on John's white piano and I think that's wonderful. Life moves on and you embrace it."

Yes She Did Design These Pants

See you at the merch table at the MCA, boys.

Bonus!

Just this week Yoko released her hypnotically bizarre and instantly viral music video, 'Bad Dancer', starring her pals the Beastie Boys, Questlove, Ira Glass, Roberta Flack, Cibo Matto and more. One more life achievement down.

War Is Over! (If you want it), an exhibition of Yoko's work across multiple disciplines, will be on at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art Australia from November 15, 2013, to February 23, 2014. The artist herself will also be present.

Published on November 06, 2013 by Jacqueline Breen

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