Artist
Yoko Ono
Japanese artist, author, and peace activist

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Yoko Ono
Japanese artist, author, and peace activist
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Birth Date

February 18, 1933

Arty Fact

svdgrift's picture

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Nowadays we might know Yoko as a member of the art-world elite and feminist queen, but her life hasn't always been as glamorous.

Yoko’s father left even before she was born. He was transferred to the beautiful city of San Francisco for work and Yoko didn't meet up with him until she was two years old. He was cool though, and came from a long line of samurai warrior-scholars.

In 1941, the family moved back to Japan and Yoko was able to enroll in Keimei Gakuen, one of the most exclusive schools in Japan. So far, so good right? Hmm yeah, until about 4 years later, in 1945, when Tokyo got bombarded. The Ono family was lucky to be sheltered in a bunker, far away from the heavy bombing. After that, they were forced to beg for food and carry all of their belongings in a wheelbarrow. Yoko and her brother Keisuke, who were once the popular kids, were now picked on for being beggars. Kids can be so cruel. Her old school eventually reopened and, together with classmate Prince Akihito (the future emperor of Japan), Yoko graduated in 1951. She went on to study philosophy at the Gakushuin University as one of the first women to ever matriculate. The Big Apple was calling though, after only 2 semesters she decided to head to New York and meet up with all the hip and bohemian artists doing their thing there. Her parents disapproved of her nonconformist lifestyle, but that’s your duty as a parent right? Yoko got inspired by all these creative free spirits and tried out some performance stuff herself. Not everything went as expected though, during one of her  first performances she accidentally set fire to a painting. Oops!

While battling clinical depression after her first marriage to Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi ended, her parents sent her to a mental institution. While still locked up, Yoko married her second husband, jazz musician Anthony Cox. (The girl had a thing for musicians.) There was only one small detail Yoko completely forgot about...she never legally divorced Toshi! Yoko and Anthony got married legally later on and she gave birth to their daughter Kyoko Chan Cox. After their divorce, Anthony kidnapped young Kyuoko on Christmas eve 1971. Yoko didn't see her daughter for 27 years. Father and daughter lived in this creepy Christian cult so it was nearly impossible for Yoko to find them. Anthony’s side of the story is a little different.  He says after he moved to Spain, Yoko and her third husband John Lennon (the Beatle) kidnapped Kyuoko from her school in Majorca. They returned her soon after that. Even though he was granted custody over their daughter, he was afraid Lennon’s money and power would eventually take her away from him. That’s why he eventually hid them in the weird religious cult...so says Anthony. 

Exactly how John and Yoko met isn’t clear since there are many fantastic stories. What we do know is that even before marrying, the two were anything but ordinary. While his first wife was visiting Greece, John invited Yoko for a weekend to record music and do other hippy stuff like “make love at dawn." His words, not mine. When his poor wife returned, Yoko was wearing her bathrobe and John only said, “Oh hi." Obviously this marriage was doomed and John went on and married Yoko. Instead of going to Bali for their honeymoon, these newlyweds protested against the Vietnam War by staying in bed for two weeks. Not just any bed though, a Hilton presidential suite bed. They called in a "bed-in" and it became one of the most famous performance pieces of that era.

Yoko’s third marriage was also tumultuous. It is well known (and ignored) that John was a very unpleasant person and was abusive towards women. While the two were having marital problems, Yoko pushed John to date their personal assistant May Ping. And so he did. In 1980, John got murdered and Yoko went into compete seclusion for a long time. While the two were the epitome of the avant-garde scene, being hip apparently wasn't that much fun. In retrospect Yoko said: “John and I wasted 15 years eating macrobiotic and drinking soy milk, when all I wanted was a little half-and-half." Truer words, girl.

 

Featured Content

Here is what Wikipedia says about Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono (Japanese: 小野 洋子, romanizedYōko Ono, usually spelled in katakana ヨーコ・オノ; born February 18, 1933) is a Japanese-American multimedia artist, singer, songwriter and peace activist. Her work also encompasses performance art, which she performs in both English and Japanese, and filmmaking. She was married to English singer-songwriter John Lennon of the Beatles from 1969 until his murder in 1980.

Ono grew up in Tokyo and also spent several years in New York City. She studied at Gakushuin University, but withdrew from her course after two years and moved to New York in 1953 to live with her family. She spent some time at Sarah Lawrence College and then became involved in New York City's downtown artists scene, which included the Fluxus group.

She first met Lennon in 1966 at her own art exhibition in London, and they became a couple in 1968 and wed the following year. With their performance Bed-Ins for Peace in Amsterdam and Montreal in 1969, Ono and Lennon used their honeymoon at the Hilton Amsterdam as a stage for public protests against the Vietnam War. The feminist themes of her music have influenced musicians as diverse as the B-52s and Meredith Monk. She achieved commercial and critical acclaim in 1980 with the chart-topping album Double Fantasy, a collaboration with Lennon that was released three weeks before his murder.

Public appreciation of Ono's work has shifted over time and was helped by a retrospective at a Whitney Museum branch in 1989 and the 1992 release of the six-disc box set Onobox. Retrospectives of her artwork have also been presented at the Japan Society in New York City in 2001, in Bielefeld, Germany, and the UK in 2008, Frankfurt, and Bilbao, Spain, in 2013 and The Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2015. She received a Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement from the Venice Biennale in 2009 and the 2012 Oskar Kokoschka Prize, Austria's highest award for applied contemporary art.

As Lennon's widow, Ono works to preserve his legacy. She funded Strawberry Fields in Manhattan's Central Park, the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland, and the John Lennon Museum in Saitama, Japan (which closed in 2010).

She has made significant philanthropic contributions to the arts, peace, Philippine and Japan disaster relief, and other causes. In 2012, Ono received the Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt Human Rights Award. The award is given annually in recognition of extraordinary, nonviolent commitment to human rights. Ono continued her social activism when she inaugurated a biennial $50,000 LennonOno Grant for Peace in 2002. She also co-founded the group Artists Against Fracking in 2012.

She has a daughter, Kyoko Chan Cox, from her marriage to Anthony Cox and a son, Sean Taro Ono Lennon, from her marriage to Lennon. She collaborates musically with Sean.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Yoko Ono.