Yoko Ono poses next to a tree in her trademark hat
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Yoko Ono: Iconic Artist Celebrated in Tate Modern Exhibition

She made waves in the art world and stole the heart of music legend John Lennon. As the Tate Modern celebrates Yoko Ono with a major retrospective, we look back at her redefining journey.

Born in Tokyo, Yoko Ono was a child prodigy who wrote poetry and played piano from a young age. In 1952, Ono became the first woman accepted into the philosophy programme at Gakushūin University in Tokyo.

But it wasn't until she hit the Big Apple and became part of the avant-garde art scene that she found her passion – and some might say calling. With her simple yet mind-blowing conceptual art pieces, Yoko quickly became a trailblazer of the time. And when she married composer Toshi Ichiyanagi in 1956, she was launched into the limelight, connecting with the Fluxus movement and receiving her first solo gallery show.

But Yoko was just getting started. With her iconic performance art, "Cut Piece" and her risqué films, she was recognised as a feminist icon and a cutting-edge artist.

And then, she met John. A love story for the ages, the duo collaborated on experimental films and recordings. Ono became an instant celebrity with their iconic bed-ins for peace in Amsterdam and Montreal. Ono now had an unprecedented platform to express herself.

Conversely, when the Beatles broke up in 1970, she was widely vilified as the supposed instigator of the split.

Ono and Lennon retreated to private life following the birth of their son, Sean, in 1975, but worked together on Double Fantasy in 1980, which earned the pair a Grammy Award for album of the year. In December the same year, John was tragically killed, Yoko was left to fathom a life without her great love.

With her solo album, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, the artist showed the world she was a force to be reckoned with. Her experimental rock songs, inspired by Kabuki and Alban Berg, earned her critical acclaim and a Grammy Award. But she also faced criticism and vilification, with many blaming her for the breakup of the Beatles.

Today, Ono is widely recognised as a pioneer of conceptual art and an important figure in the avant-garde. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and museums worldwide, including a 2019 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Indeed, the Tate Modern in London is currently featuring a major retrospective of her work, Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind. Ono has also continued to be a political activist throughout her life, using her platform to advocate for peace, women's rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. In 2009, she received the Oskar Kokoschka Prize in Austria, which recognises achievements in the field of contemporary art.

In addition to her art and activism, Ono is also known for her music, which has influenced countless artists and musicians. She has collaborated with musicians such as Iggy Pop, Moby, and Kim Gordon, and her innovative and experimental approach to music continues to inspire new generations of musicians.

In 2017 the National Music Publishers’ Association announced that it had begun the process of adding Ono as a songwriter on Lennon’s iconic 1971 single Imagine. The organisation cited a video clip in which Lennon states the track “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song,” since much of it was from her.

As Yoko Ono continues into her 90s, she remains active and continues to create new works of art. She has been recognised as a visionary artist, who has pushed the boundaries of what is possible in the world of art and music. Her contributions to the world of art and music will continue to be celebrated for many years to come, and she remains an icon of creativity, passion, and inspiration.

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