This month not only ushered in Mother’s Day in the US, but also celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage. In honor we profile Yoko Ono, an Asian American artist and peace activitst, who is also a mother, shedding light on some of the cultural complexities (and controversies) of her integrating multiple roles into one lifestyle.
She was John Lennon’s iconic sweetheart and a figure that was rumored to have broken up one of the most influential bands in history. She continues to leave traces behind her powerful and well-known legacy as Yoko Ono.
Yoko Ono was born on February 18th, 1933 in Tokyo, Japan to Eisuke Ono and Isoko Yasuda, a wealthy banking family. Her mother was a painter and her father wanted to pursue a career as a concert pianist but sacrificed his dream and instead took a position as a banker. Her father lived vicariously through Yoko and her musical talents and sent her to music school at the young age of four, believing that music not bankers would change the world. However, regardless of the comfortable life in Kudan House, Yoko, her two younger siblings, and her parents were living, it's said Yoko "had up to 20 servants, but no friends." Her creativity and musicality substituted as a form of comfort.
Years later, Yoko was accepted as the first woman into the philosophy program in Gakushuin University. She left Gakushuin University after only two semesters, joining her family in America (Scarsdale, New York) and attending Sarah Lawrence College, becoming immediately attracted to politics. Ono left college and married Toschi Ichiyanagi, a Julliard student who shared a “passion for avant-garde intercultural music” (The Art Story) . In 1955 she also wrote her first composition, which was called Secret Piece. Marrying Ichiyanagi created some problems for her with her parents, but also formed the beginning of her life as an artist.
After moving to Manhattan, Ono's reputation as the “High Priestess of the Happening” came about as a result of hosting art events in her Chamber Street loft, with hundreds of people looking to her to introduce the next great visual artist and/or performer. As her personal stature rose, her marriage to Ichiyanagi ended, just as her first solo show was debuting in 1961. After a few years, Ono was soon on to her next marriage to the jazz musician, film producer, and art promoter, Tony Cox, and giving birth to their daughter Kyoko. Like her self-described "tense relationship" with her own mother, Yoko admits that she was not a doting or attentive mother to Kyoko. deserting the famiily twice before Cox disappeared with Kyoko in 1971, leaving Yoko to wonder if her daughter was even alive. She had no contact with Kyoko for almost two decades.
Below is the letter Yoko wrote to her daughter where we can see the courage and love she had for Koyo:
Yoko met John Lennon at her exhibition of Cut Piece at the Indica Gallery in London, they were “drawn together by their love of words and music” . He would soon become her third husband, and perhaps the most controversial of her relationships in life.
With the ongoing situation with her daughter and relationship with one of the most popular peoples in the world, this created a huge strain on Yoko Ono’s careers in the 1970-80s. John Lennon’s stardom was overwhelming, being loved by the world, while she was not liked by his bandmates, battling claims that she was taking him away from them. Yoko had her second child Sean in 1975. Lennon became a home caretaker while Ono ran the business side of their shared record label called Lenono (a combination of their names together). Unfortunately in 1980, Lennon was shot and killed right outside of their home in New York City.
Yoko Ono continued her work within the shared record label, branching out with the LennonOno Grant Peace in 2002, and inaugurating a structure called the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. She took up the position of experimental composer and released three solo albums, toured, and composed two off-broadway musicals. Now, in her latter days and age, she is active in working for peace and claims “we will see peace on earth in the year 2050”.
She is also active with her own blog http://imaginepeace.com/ where she promotes her own music, life with John Lennon, and opinions about social issues today. In 2014, on Mother’s Day, Ono wrote about appreciation for mothers "due to their immense amount of work even giving birth to each one of us," regardless of how much men may repress women’s status. She says that mothers are not being credited enough for what they have done for us and to remember these moments all the time.
COLLABORATION BY KRIS S. & FLORENCE KIM
Contributing from New York.
Thumbnail credit: "War is Over" (If you want it) by Yoko Ono (Sydney, Australia)
Wikicommons - photo by Eva Rinaldi