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Yoko Ono stands out as a key figure in contemporary art, celebrated for her innovative and thought-provoking works that defy traditional artistic norms.

Born in Japan and later relocating to the United States, Ono’s journey as a Japanese-American woman has profoundly influenced her art. Moreover her work transcends conventional boundaries, tackling social issues and inspiring contemporary artists to delve into the realms of transnationalism, social consciousness, and artistic originality.

Who is Yoko Ono?

Yoko Ono Childhood Artwork

Yoko Ono was born into a wealthy family in Tokyo, Japan, in 1933 to her father, Eisuke Ono, a successful banker, and her mother, Isoko Ono, who came from a noble family with strong ties to the Yasuda clan. Her younger years consisted of constantly moving back and forth from Japan to the United States until she officially settled in New York City in 1952 with her family. 

Moving to New York City in 1952 marked a pivotal moment in Yoko Ono’s life, as she began to navigate the complexities of being an immigrant and the challenges of adapting to a new cultural environment. Not only was it difficult for her to fit in American society, but people back home in Japan would also ostracize her for being “Americanized,” thus making her feel like an outsider in both American and Japanese cultures. 

Because of her upbringing, Yoko Ono developed a transnational identity, upholding traditional Japanese values while immersing herself in Western culture. This multicultural background provided her with a unique perspective on transnationalism, rooted in both Japanese tradition and American modernity.

Defining Transnationalism

Yoko Ono Current Day

Transnationalism refers to the interconnectedness between different countries and cultures through the exchange of ideas, goods, and other aspects of each culture. One of the key examples of transnationalism is migration, where people move across borders and settle in different countries. Thanks to technology and accessible transportation, there has been an increase in global mobility, with more people traveling to different countries for work, education, and leisure. 

Transnationalism due to increased immigration has had a profound impact on the global economy, creating multinational corporations and a globalized marketplace. This has resulted in multicultural societies that blur the lines between nations, for better or for worse. As a Japanese immigrant living in New York City, Yoko Ono’s experiences as a Japanese woman living in America have shaped her artistic expression and provided a foundation for her identity and belonging as a transnational artist. 

Yoko Ono and Being a Transnational Artist

Yoko Ono’s early exposure to calligraphy, poetry, and music profoundly influenced her artistic vision and style. In New York City, she engaged with the avant-garde art scene, becoming affiliated with the Fluxus movement and the experimental art of the 1960s.

Fluxus, an international community of artists including composers, designers, and poets, advocated for social and economic change in the art world. They embraced “intermedia,” emphasizing interdisciplinary art forms through experimental works often created from inexpensive, mass-produced materials like paper or plastic pill boxes.

Yoko Ono Cut Piece

Fluxus Movement

Through Fluxus, Yoko Ono embraced her Japanese-American identity, aligning with a transnational community. Fluxus, a loose art movement, welcomed participants worldwide. Its artists primarily came from the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.

Moreover the movement promoted collaboration and cultural exchange, inspiring Ono to blend her multicultural background into her works. This approach laid the foundation for her distinctive art style, marked by conceptual art, performance, and multimedia experimentation. Her interactions with American artists like John Cage and George Maciunas enriched her artistic style and broadened her cross-cultural influences.

Yoko Ono’s Art as Cultural Commentary

Yoko Ono firmly believes that art can be a powerful form of social change and cultural commentary, creating art that explores themes of peace, feminism, and human connection. 

One of her most iconic works is “Cut Piece” (1964), an innovative performance. Meanwhile, there the audience is invited by Yoko Ono herself to cut away pieces of her clothing with scissors. Through this performance, Yoko Ono confronts the issues of identity, human agency, and the objectification of the female body. This piece further exemplifies her ability to merge her experience as a Japanese-American woman in a thought-provoking manner. “Cut Piece” reflects Ono’s critique of societal power through art, transcending cultural boundaries to resonate with global audiences.


Yoko Ono War is Over

Yoko Ono’s impact is evident in her collaborative art campaigns with her husband John Lennon. So one of their notable performance art pieces, the “Bed-In,” was a series of nonviolent protests performed by staying in bed for days at a time in various locations.

Another significant campaign they created was the “War Is Over! (If You Want It)” campaign, which showcases Yoko Ono’s commitment to peace and global harmony through unconventional art forms. Therefore these initiatives highlight Yoko Ono’s artistic capacity to bridge Japanese philosophies of harmony and tranquility with the American influence of social activism and protest.

Choose Your Own Adventure with Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono’s enduring impact on the art world extends beyond her role as an artist. Encompassing her influence as a multicultural icon, activist, and advocate for artistic experimentation. Until now, people all over the world still regard Yoko Ono as one of the pioneering figures in the rise of the avant-garde art scene. Yoko Ono’s artwork continues to inspire and provoke thought, making her a significant presence in contemporary art.

Yoko Ono New Project

Therefore the beauty of Yoko Ono’s art is its long-lasting impact and influence on modern contemporary art. Tate Modern, an art gallery based in London, invites artists and non-artists to experience Yoko Ono’s early and most well-known performances and learn more about her legacy as a transnational artist. Moreover with over 200 works, the Tate Modern invites audiences to discover the art of Yoko Ono. And how it continues to provoke discussion regarding peace and social change in a modern setting. 

The Yoko Ono exhibition has been open to all for viewing at the Tate Modern since February 15 and will run until September 1, 2024. Pricing, ticket booking, and more details about the exhibition are found here.  


About Jihyun Lee

A dreamer, a wonderer and a rapper at heart. An everyday person who is curious about the world and would love to share Japanese lifestyle stories with you.