New Delhi: From the "world`s most famous unknown artist" to the "woman who broke up the Beatles", Yoko Ono has had her share of bouquets and brickbats. The conceptual artist, who is putting up her maiden exhibition in India, says her work is an extension of her "karmic love affair" with late Beatles icon John Lennon.
"Yes...I met him at an art show. He was recording music at his studio on 3, Abbey Road. Number three is a number connected to music. He came to 6, Mason Yard where I was having my gallery show. Six is a number of love. It was the beginning of a life-long love affair, and karmic too," Ono told reporters in an interview during her visit to India.
Lennon and Ono teamed up around 1968 when the former was still with the Beatles - and pooled their genius for several albums. They married in 1969 after a torrid romance. The couple rocked the world for a decade before Lennon was shot dead in 1980 at the end of a busy day in a recording studio in New York.
Her installation and performance art at the Vadehra Gallery in the capital (Jan 13 - March 10) is a torch into her life. For several decades, Ono, 78, has been campaigning for world peace and women`s empowerment.
She draws attention through her avant garde works to the constraints faced by women in their lives.
In India, Ono is collaborating with a group of seven women artisans from Bikaner for an interactive installation, "Heal Together" - a cut canvas embellished with traditional embroidery, scraps of coloured textiles and graffiti.
The women, mostly refugees from Pakistan after the 1971 war, are part of a self-help crafts cluster, `Rang Sutra`, comprising nearly 1,200 women who embroider on handloom, silk, wool and leather.
The women have woven and embroidered 15 odhnis, or handwoven drapes, to accompany Ono`s installation on gender injustice, "Remember Us" - a series of headless female torsos laid out on beds of burnt wood chips and a graffiti on the wall screaming "Uncursed" in English, Hindi and Japanese.
The gender installation is at the centre of Ono`s India-specific multi-media art project, "Our Beautiful Daughters".
"Indian craft is very important for the world and those girls as well. Those girls will never have a bad time wherever they are because they have the skill. We should all be like them and focus ourselves on something we love to do...and create our own destiny.
"It is a very Asian thing - my mother taught me about music and art when I was four years old...Inside, I am an Asian and outside I am Asian and Western. The world is getting very small," she recalled.
Born in 1933 to wealthy bankers in Japan, Ono later migrated to the US with her family. Asked about her long-term plans for India, Ono turned philosophical.
"There are so many things in this world we can take care of...Touching base like this, shaking hands to realise that all of us are very important people...we have accomplished that in two days in India.
"But I will never leave my soul from India. I will be here wherever I am," she said.
Indian mysticism has been an important influence in Ono`s life, thanks to Lennon`s brush with transcendental meditation at Mahesh Yogi`s retreat in the 1960s. The couple had even been known to seek an audience with Sathya Sai Baba and travelled through the Himalayas in search of spiritual salvation.
"The whole world is influenced by Indian spirituality. India is a very interesting land - it is the centre of the world`s spirituality," she said.
She is also attracted to Buddhism.
"The whole world is influenced by Buddhism. It is not a religion but a logical, theoretical idea - don`t kill anybody and don`t fight with anybody," Ono told IANS in the course of her interview.
Known for her experimental music and the Plastic Ono Band, which she set up with Lennon in 1969 to sing songs of peace and freedom, Ono fills her art with this new age search for liberation and people-to-people interface as well.
Her live performance, "Cut Piece", in 1964 allowed the audience to step on the stage and snip her draped garment to pieces till she was unclothed.
"Art is a tool of social change. But music is music and art is art...They meet sometimes and sometimes they don`t. But there is always music around my art, touching it, nourishing it," Ono added.