In India, we seem to have descended into a nasty nationalist blame game: Anish Kapoor

Celebrated artist Anish Kapoor

Celebrated artist Anish Kapoor made his first appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) in an online edition that began on February 19. The London-based artist, whose first work in India—Descension—was a huge draw at the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014, underlined the importance of art by mounting an exhibition of his works in stone over the last 30 years at the Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, during July-November last year. The Mumbai-born Kapoor, who says he is working on a project in India, spoke with Faizal Khan, telling him that artists have to be fearless in speaking out. Edited excerpts:

The audience at the Jaipur Literature Festival have been waiting for long to meet you but left disappointed seeing your name suddenly slip out of the list of prominent speakers in the past. How are you looking forward to your first appearance at the JLF?

I am happy to be at the festival at long last. Of course, a digital presence is not the same as being in Jaipur. I look forward to being there in person before long.

It was a pleasure talking to you at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014 while you were creating Descension, your first work in India, at the Fort Kochi waterfront in 2014. While Descension drew people from all walks of life and from India and abroad, you had said you would like to do more works in India. When will we hear from you again on this?

I am working on a project in India, which will be made public in due course.

Society looks up to artists to make sense of the state of our world and no one more important than a sculptor to make sense of a paralysed world. Your thoughts.

This continues to be a very difficult time. We are the privileged and have the means to have what we need in spite of the world situation. Our brothers and sisters by the millions have a much more difficult time and our governments seem not to care. I am appalled that sectarian thinking and small minded self-interest, on the part of the government, is the predominant force. In India, we seem to have descended into a nasty nationalist blame game. What dreadful calamity. What has happened to compassion? Our country has been an inclusive amalgam for thousands of years, even the British colonial presence could not change that, but it seems that the present government is hell bent on a unitary and misguided Hindu Indian-ness. Culture has to respond to this and fearlessly speak out. Sadly, there is little evidence of this. It seems artists are afraid too. If we don’t call out and say what is taking place, we will lose the freedom to speak and not know we are losing it.

Your works demand building on an industrial scale in big facilities. Is the pandemic, the restrictions and the uncertainty forcing changes in the way you work? Will it change the way we see art?

Most of what I make is at human scale. Big works are rare and dependent on the situation. Scale is a matter of meaning and not just a matter of size. Meaning in art is, of course, a negotiation between the viewer and the work of art.

How important is the Houghton Hall exhibition for you during the pandemic last year?

As a result of the pandemic, most museums are closed. Houghton Hall has marvellous grounds and is an outdoor space with works in the landscape. The exhibition I made there is of a group of works made in stone over the last 30 years.

Faizal Khan is a freelancer

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