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For Yoko, activism and art

Updated: 2012-12-10 15:03
By Jacob Bernstein ( China Daily/Agencies)

On a recent fall day, Yoko Ono was at the trendy fashion emporium Opening Ceremony in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, displaying sketches she had submitted to the design team she was working with there.

One pair of pants had a hole where the crotch normally is.

Another design had arrows pointing at the nipples, and directions that read: "holes to put flowers (fresh) in."

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Ms. Ono first had the idea of doing men's clothing when she fell in love with John Lennon in the 1960s.

But, she said, "Men were always wanting us to look good and take off everything. And we were never able to enjoy men's sexuality in that way."

Times, of course, changed. Women went to work in droves. Fashion boundaries blurred. The male body became a Madison Avenue commodity.

And then, as she entered her 70s, Ms. Ono made friends with young fashion types who regarded her as an elder stateswoman of cool; a reminder of what New York used to be when artists roamed the streets of Greenwich Village.

So when she met Humberto Leon, a founder of Opening Ceremony, in Tokyo about three years ago, he was eager to work with her. "She's always been a radical," he said.

His favorite pieces are a series of garments with bells.

For Yoko, activism and art

"There's one that's a plexi-necklace you wear with two bells attached and it's placed where your breasts might be," he said. "And inscribed underneath it says 'Ring for your mommy.'"

The collaboration comes at a time when Ms. Ono, who is nearing 80, is experiencing a major renaissance on the art and culture scene.

In June, a retrospective of her work was held in London. During the Summer Olympics, she collaborated with Selfridges, the London department store, on a public art installation, "Imagine Peace." In September, there was a video installation in Times Square in collaboration with the Art Production Fund.

Meanwhile, Ms. Ono has been bestowing her annual peace prize on Pussy Riot, the Russian punk group whose members were convicted of hooliganism in Moscow, and helping to fight world hunger.

"In the Second World War, I was a little girl," she said at a recent benefit for WhyHunger. "I was evacuated in my country. We were very hungry. I just don't want the children to have that experience."

And on November 28, the Library of Congress in Washington announced it was releasing dozens of interviews between Joe Smith, a former Capital Records president, and music luminaries. In one, Ms. Ono claimed it was Ringo Starr, not she, who initiated the breakup of the Beatles.

Ms. Ono has also been attending New York fund-raisers and fashion parties. She even started a capsule jewelry collection for Swarovski.

"I think her message of peace is resonant right now," said Catherine Morris, the curator at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, where Ms. Ono was honored recently. "Her longstanding commitment to political activism gives her credence."

Ms. Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, 37, have started Artists Against Fracking, a group opposed to hydraulic fracturing, a drilling method for natural gas, and the two are finishing an eclectic album.

"It's a nice way to meet up with your son," she said. "Because it's getting to a point where, after 30, they have their own lives."

Plus, she said, he always knows who the boss is: "Of course, me."

The New York Times