Creative Reflections Monthly Art Review: Art Review #1 - “Family Album (Blood Objects) Exhibit F: Shirt” by Yoko Ono

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Illustration and photos by Chyna Jones

Welcome to the first edition of Creative Reflections, a monthly review on interesting artwork I find around metro-Detroit in my free time. My name is Chyna Jones, and I’m a Graphic Design major here at HFC, as well as a graphic artist for The Mirror News.

I’m going to begin with a trigger warning for this month’s review, as the artwork depicts blood and shows implications of violence.

Now that formalities are taken care of, let’s start the review!

Let me set the scene:

I’m on one of my monthly trips to the Detroit Institute of Art. I’m venturing through the halls with no intended destination. I cut through the Contemporary Art gallery on the 2nd floor; I idle passed some work by Andy Warhol, who’s a staple there, and round a corner. I look to my right to see a huge canvas painting. What should have been the most attention-grabbing piece, was quickly overshadowed by what caught my eye next.

Family Album (Blood Objects) Exhibit F. Shirt by Yoko Ono

Off to the shorter end of the wall, hung a shirt, or at least something resembling a shirt. It was odd — it felt out of the way and secluded. Though, on a smaller wall display, the negative space given seemed vast compared to the piece. Still, the bright blue “shirt” stood out. As I walked closer, I noticed a “unique” element to the item; blood-stained bullet holes in the right breast.

Family Album (Blood Objects) Exhibit F. Shirt by Yoko Ono

Now I was invested. As I mulled over the display, I tried to decipher the underlying message of the work before looking at the place card descriptor. But I finally did take a look over.

Family Album (Blood Objects) Exhibit F. Shirt artist statement by Yoko Ono

The title —“Family Album (Blood Objects) Exhibit F: Shirt”

“Okay, intense name,” I thought.

The artist — “Yoko Ono”

“Wait, what?!”

My eyes widened. I verbally gasped. “No way,” I told myself. It couldn’t be her, could it? As I continued reading the place card, another familiar name appeared; John Lennon. Yup, that was her. This is her work. I was dumb-founded.

I continued reading the card description. “To create this work, she replicated the shirt legendary musician and antiwar activist John Lennon was wearing when a fan shot and killed him.” Well, this is certainly interesting…

So, Yoko Ono. Artist, musician, activist. A prominent, yet decisive figure in pop culture due to her “complicated” marriage to the famed John Lennon of the Beatles. She’s as famous as she is infamous.

Okay, look — I don’t feel the need to explain why she’s considered the “dragon woman” that “broke up” The Beatles. Nor do I want to entertain the conspiratory image that, by all indications, was concocted by tabloids and money-hungry opportunists.

I clearly have a strong stance on the matter.

But despite what people may think or say about Ono, there is one depiction of her most people fail to acknowledge; a grieving widow.

When the revelation of who made the piece sunk in, my first inclination was to write it off as a form of a weird tribute; something that only an out-of-touch celebrity may do in the attempt to seem deep, not understanding the morbid and moral implications of making such a piece. But then I watched a documentary. Well fine, a snippet of a documentary. On her channel, Linsay Ellis, a popular YouTuber and video essayist, recently put out the first 10 minutes of her documentary, “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, a deep dive into John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s relationship. In that teaser, Ellis discusses the event and details of Lennon’s murder and the aftermath of the tragedy. Watching the trailer alone made me re-evaluated the situation.

John Lennon was murdered; gunned down by a self-described fan in front of his home. What many leave out was that Ono was also an intended target. Not only did she have to confront the death of her husband, having to break the news to her then 5 year-old son, but had to deal with a myriad of greedy opportunities looking to profit off Lennon’s death. Many, once considered friends, went behind her back and put out sensational tell alls’ about John’s life, making unfounded accusations about Ono. At some point, the murderer even contacted Ono directly to obtain approval on a book he was writing about the murder.

So when I look on to this piece – a piece pain-stalkingly made to resemble the shirt worn by Lennon on that tragic day, all I can see is the trauma and grief that afflicted Ono for more than a decade. There’s an immense gravity to the artwork that offers a view into Ono’s perspective of the murder. The title “Family Album” invokes a sense of forced remembrance; a begrudging piece of memorabilia of a horrible life event. For Ono, it’s a time capsule made from bad memories.

As a writer’s note, I’d like it if readers took the time to watch the teaser trailer of “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, by Linsay Ellis, as that snippet of the documentary centers around John Lennon’s death through Yoko, as well as the messy aftermath that lead to a lot of conspiracies and defamation against her. I also encourage people to watch the full documentary on Nebula, though it does require a subscription to the site.

‘Til next month, stay weird and be creative!