AGO SHOWS ONO PROPER RESPECT

Rating: NNNNNin the beginning, there was Yoko Ono and Connie Chung. On Yoko Ono the media rained disdain, contempt, open.


Rating: NNNNN

in the beginning, there was Yoko Ono and Connie Chung. On Yoko Ono the media rained disdain, contempt, open hatred, insults, vicious cartoons and blame. On Connie Chung the media conferred respect, affection, rewards, a prime-time slot and a six- figure salary.Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, it was clear how the mainstream wanted Asian women to behave: get your eyelids done, wear conventional clothing, say please, thank you and excuse me. Report what we want to hear.

Do not ask questions or mischievously suggest that participation is needed to complete an artwork. Do not insist that war is over if you want it to be or assert that art is not necessarily an object.

Do not create music from a baby’s heartbeat or from the pitched moans of a woman coming. Do not marry the number-one pop star whom every white teenager in America secretly fantasizes could be hers, if only.

Know your place. That was the message Western media sent out to all Asian women. Be quiet, be polite, aspire to suburban middle-class values. Or we will destroy you.

Mainstream media in the U.S., Canada and Britain depicted Yoko Ono as an interloper who must have bewitched John. She was the Universal Hate Object, a Dragon Lady, an avant-garde witch.

Beginning with their coming together on the Two Virgins disc, a toxic mixture of racism, sexism and suspicion of the avant-garde combined into a lethal fog that kept Ono and her work from receiving fair and considered appreciation.

Indeed, I think Ono detractors needed to believe her work was without merit in order to mask what was clearly, in retrospect, naked bigotry. If you’ve never seen her work, how can you dismiss it?

Art is a con(ceptual) game with profound and poetic resonances, she said. It is a transformative act that exceeds restrictive definitions. Ono’s art — whether you are talking about her Instruction Poems, her starkly metaphorical performance pieces, her minimalist sculpture or invigoratingly fresh music — shocks and shifts the mind/soul onto the level of pure metaphor, shattering conventions.

So many of Ono’s innovations are now considered standard practice by contemporary artists, musicians and sculptors. When I wrote The Yoko Ono Project, I was convinced that if audiences simply experienced her work, her brilliance, even secondhand, they could begin to peel away the layers of prejudice that have hounded this intelligent and courageous woman.

The upcoming retrospective of her work represents a lifetime of creation. The general public is finally faced with the image of Yoko Ono alone, honoured in her own right.

Jean Yoon is an actor, playwright and Seoul Babe/artistic director of Loud Mouth Asian Babes. Her play The Yoko Ono Project premiered at Theatre Passe Muraille in January 2000.

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