Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1933, Yoko Ono began her artistic pursuits in New York City. She met John Lennon of the Beatles in November 1966, when he visited a preview of her exhibition at a gallery in London. They married in March 1969, and collaborated on art, film and musical projects until 1980, when Lennon was shot by a deranged fan. Ono has continued her art career as well as efforts to honor Lennon's memory, starting the LennonOno Grant for Peace award in 2002.
Multimedia artist and performer Yoko Ono was born into an aristocratic family on February 18, 1933, in Tokyo, Japan, the eldest of Isoko and Eisuke Ono's three children. Eisuke, who worked for the Yokohama Specie Bank, was transferred to San Francisco, California, two weeks before she was born. The rest of the family soon followed. Her father was transferred back to Japan in 1937, and Ono subsequently enrolled at the elite Peers School (formerly known as the Gakushuin School) in Tokyo.
The family moved to New York in 1940 and then back to Japan in 1941, when her father was transferred to Hanoi on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ono remained in Tokyo through World War II, enduring the great firebombing of 1945. At the age of 18, Ono moved with her parents to Scarsdale, New York. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College, but left to elope with her first husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi.
Gaining Notice as an Artist
Settling in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, Ono developed an interest in art and began writing poetry. Considered too radical by many, her work was not well received, but she gained recognition after working with American jazz musician/film producer Anthony Cox, who later became her second husband. Cox financed and helped coordinate her "interactive conceptual events" in the early 1960s. The couple had one child together, daughter Kyoko, in 1963.
Ono's art often demanded the viewers' participation and forced them to get involved. One of her most famous works was the "cut piece" staged in 1964, when members of the audience were invited to cut off pieces of her clothing until she was naked, an abstract commentary on discarding materialism.
Marriage to John Lennon
Ono first met John Lennon of the Beatles on November 9, 1966, when he visited a preview of her exhibition at the Indica Gallery in London, England. Lennon was taken with the positive, interactive nature of her work. He specifically cited a ladder leading up to a black canvas with a spyglass on a chain, which revealed the word "yes" written on the ceiling. The two began an affair approximately 18 months later. Lennon divorced his first wife, Cynthia (with whom he had a son, Julian, born in 1963), and married Ono on March 20, 1969.
The couple collaborated on art, film and musical projects, and became famous for their series of "conceptual events" to promote world peace, including the "bed-in" held in an Amsterdam hotel room during their honeymoon in 1969. After her marriage to Lennon, Ono struggled with her ex-husband over custody of Kyoko. She recorded the song "Don't Worry Kyoko" as an effort to reach out to her child. In 1971, her ex-husband disappeared with Kyoko, and Ono did not learn for years what had happened to her daughter. Apparently, Kyoko spent more than a decade living with a religious cult called the Walk with her father.
Life After Lennon's Death
Ono and Lennon became parents in 1975 with the arrival of their son, Sean. Lennon quit the music business to raise Sean, and when the famed musician returned to the spotlight in 1980, he was shot by a deranged fan, Mark David Chapman, only a few feet from Ono. Sean Lennon has grown up to become a well-known musician in his own right.
Since Lennon's death, Ono has continued her career, recording albums, performing concert tours and composing off-Broadway musicals. She has exhibited her art internationally, and the first U.S. retrospective of her work opened in New York City in 2002. Involved in an array of social endeavors, she co-founded Artists Against Fracking with son Sean in 2012 to lobby against drilling for natural gas in New York State.
Ono has also continued to honor Lennon's memory with a number of different projects. On October 9, 2002, she inaugurated the LennonOno Grant for Peace award to commemorate what would have been Lennon's 62nd birthday. On Lennon's birthday in 2007, she unveiled the Imagine Peace Tower on Videy, an island in Iceland. This outdoor artwork, created by Ono, represented her and Lennon's commitment to world peace.
Ono made music history in 2011, becoming the oldest artist to have number-one hit on the dance charts. She was 78 years old when "Move on Fast" made it to the top spot. Ono has also enjoyed renewed interest in her artwork with a special exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2015. This show featured more than 100 works by Ono from 1960 to 1971.
In February 2016, Ono made headlines after she was admitted to a New York hospital. She sought treatment after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Her illness delayed her from traveling to France for a career retrospective showing of her art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon. That same year, Ono participated in a group exhibition at the Istabul Modern with the installation work entitled "Ex It," which features trees growing out of coffins.
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