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On June 30, a series of questions were put to me by a freelance reporter, Sheikh Ayaz, on behalf of the magazine India Today. These questions relate to two exhibitions I have on in Venice, Italy at the moment. One of these is at the Galleria del Academia and the other is at a foundation building, Palazzo Manfrin.
I answered these questions in good faith, trusting that India Today would honour its mission to bring news and views – cultural and political – to its readers. However, the India Today editor conveyed to me that the magazine would not publish the interview unless I removed or radically toned down my answer to the last question (asked by their journalist) which sought my views on Indian society and politics today. I refused to either tone down or remove my answer.
I am horrified and saddened that an overwhelming culture of fear holds even our press in India in silence. If our journals of note are afraid, if we must censor ourselves out of fear, we are lost. This is the route to fascism and we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by fear and unlawful terror perpetrated on journalists, editors and commentators by the goons who act in the name of so-called government.
I am grateful to The Wire for having the courage to publish what ought to be perfectly ordinary, uncontroversial views in a healthy discourse about culture and politics.
From the looks of it, your dual exhibition in Venice (Gallerie dell’Accademia and the historic Palazzo Manfrin) is typical Anish Kapoor — strange, ambitious, beautiful, brave, thought-provoking and mostly, the whole premise of art as an illusion. What to expect from these two shows?
I am deeply concerned that art must always push the possibility of meaning. Good art does not directly deliver meaning, it stands witness to the interaction between itself and the viewer. In that interaction, meaning arises – often slowly, and on reflection. Beauty is all around us, we have only to see it. Pain and violence are around us constantly, we push them away and make pretence that they don’t exist. Like the ever-present unseen.
I have nothing to say as an artist – I allow meaning to arise out of my practice. What I know is of no importance. I work to seek what I don’t know or only half know – what we might call the unseen known or the unrecognised known.
Your obsession with Vantablack continues. Why did you decide to produce the “blackest” of black ever and what does it serve in your art?
I have for many decades been engaged with the idea of the non-object. Objects that are full and not full, present and absent at the same time I have worked with very dark blues with polished stainless steel and now with this blackest black – blacker than a black hole. The blackest material in the universe. It absorbs 99.8% of all light. My contention is that it takes the physical object and pushes it into a fourth dimension. That of the strange entity we call the spiritual. We live in a world full of objects all named, all known. Only in art and perhaps out there in the cosmos are there truly mysterious objects. Those about which we might ask what is this? Is it art? Worth it seems to me, spending a life in pursuit of such a thing.
— Artnet (@artnet) April 23, 2022
Colours have always had cultural association for you. Can you explain your relationship with pigment and colour (you are showing the beloved White Sand Red Millet Many Flowers in this show).
Colour is an essential. It is a direct language that is a non-verbal, experiential truth. I have always been interested in using colour not as a material for covering the surface of an object but as the substance of the object itself. In this way it does something truly mysterious, it transcends its materiality, it becomes a material that is also immaterial. The pigment pieces are emphatic objects which intrude into the space, there is a sense that the object is not fully revealed. Pigment is also messy and formless, the fragility of these works is also part of their condition, they scatter and bleed into the space around them, but their objecthood appears self-made, this is also part of the illusion, part of the fantasy. Colour is an illusory thing.
“The artist in a way is, at an elevated level, the cosmic fool, at a less elevated level, just a fool.” Funny statement, can you explain?
The artist is a fool. Sometimes a wise fool but a fool nonetheless. Art is essentially useless. However, as Picasso wisely said, ‘art is not decoration for your living room. Art is war.’ To me, this war is to confound expectation, to turn the world upside down, to unmake what is demanded by societal norms, to undo what I expect of myself. Who but a fool would do this and then spend a whole life doing it? Sadly, too many of my colleague artists have turned into makers of luxury goods for the rich. They play the capitalist game. Sad for art and sad for the poetic spirit in us all.
Moving away from art, you have been a vociferous critic of the right-wing, especially India’s Modi government. What’s your view of Indian society and politics today?
India is in a desperate place. My beloved country has allowed itself to be beguiled by what I call the Hindu Taliban. Modi’s vile extreme right wing politics is a patriarchal monoculture of hate and is in contempt of the very things that were once the essence of our Indian spirit – tolerance and respect for all irrespective of origin, race or creed. Our utter disregard for the millions who live in concentration camp poverty in our midst is a crime of shameful arrogance. We will be damned for this.
Like all right-wing patriarchal governments, these parochial idiots have great fear of culture and the freedom of spirit it spreads. If politics is lost, culture must push forward its innovative possibilities. This is not allowed by right wing government, and they make sure we are afraid. I say to my colleagues – to censor yourself is to give in to their hegemony. Shout at injustice. Make it clear that corrupt bigotry is not our way. Not the Indian way. Only us, the citizens, can change this.
My friends tell me to beware and be careful of criticising the fascists for fear of my personal freedom. To hell with that. I put it to you that violent ethnonationalism of the kind that Modi and his henchmen are perpetrating on our beloved people, on our culture, on our psyche, will bring in its wake generations of depravity.
We must learn to shake off the weight of our colonial past. I see that our culture is in crisis, our once vibrant and inventive cinema, regional and national, is in crisis. Artists have lost their way, our classical music is in difficulty (because of its ‘Muslim origins’) etc, etc. We must drop the Sanskritic hierarchy we have learnt and find ways for all Indians to have a cultural voice. With these bigots in power that is impossible. Let’s get them out.
Anish Kapoor is an artist and sculptor who was born in Bombay and lives and works in London.
The featured image is an illustration by Pariplab Chakraborty. To view more such illustrations, click here