Sculptor Anish Kapoor who has taken the Freudian fascination for big, shiny things to whole new level talks to The Art Newspaper. Excerpts (emphases mine):
TAN: How has the reception of Indian art changed recently given the success of artists like Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Jitish Kallat and T.V. Santosh?
AK: It’s been a long time coming. Between India and China there are two billion people who represent one-third of the population of the world. As far as India goes, it’s taken 50 years of independence from Britain for artists to free themselves from making a type of mythical beast, which is called “Indian art”. In the past Indian art was labelled exotic and derivative, which is a very problematic, deeply inaccurate, touristic view. What’s interesting about the younger generation is that their forum seems to be global and their engagement seems to be with themselves as artists, rather than with a half-understood concept of what it means to be Indian.
TAN: How has your work been received in India; are you perceived as a Western artist there?
AK: I’m Indian but I have never done a show in India, although there are a couple of things being planned now. Within the past 20 years I have been perceived as a Western artist in India, while in the UK I’ve been seen as a British artist, but mostly as an Indian artist.
TAN: The title of one of your most recent works, Svayambh, refers to your connection to India. Do you think you’re giving yourself more latitude to make connections to your heritage?
AK: I have always made references to India in my work, but I do think the atmosphere has changed. My concern is to be an artist and not to be an Indian artist. In the early 1980s when I first started showing art there where very few artists on the international scene who were not of European origin. I came along and made work solely of pigment, which had the potential of being read as deeply exotic. What I did was to say, I just invented something and for you to attribute it to my Indian origins is to rob me of my creativity, so desist. I’ve been carrying on about it for a very long time, because I feel the exotic doesn’t allow for seriousness.
TAN: What do you feel you haven’t attempted and would like to try?
AK: I haven’t done much at all yet. The problems in the end are always in the studio. An artist without an inner life is not an artist at all. Without the time to properly reflect on oneself, all the rest is just bubbles.
The entire interview can be read here. It’s interesting that the UK-residing Kapoor finds the “global” language of contemporary Indian artists evolved and mature considering how much we gripe about the lack of novelty in artistic practice in India. I wonder if Kapoor would get the kind of stature Ai Weiwei has in China if he returned to India. And whether I’d spot him at posh bars like Indigo or Dome on a Friday night.
On an unrelated note, the Art Newspaper also has an interesting piece on the business of artefacts and free circulation of cultural goods in Bangladesh.
The [Musée] Guimet was borrowing 189 objects dating from the fourth to the tenth century from Bangladeshi museums. Journalists, artists, archaeologists and retired museum officials were all expressing concerns. They felt the objects were too precious to travel or that Bangladesh was not getting anything out of it, except 20 copies of the catalogue. … On one count the French authorities even yielded to the protestors. The Guimet clearly had tried to under-insure the artefacts and public pressure forced them to reappraise the objects and increase the insured value by 30%. All kinds of rumours circulated at the time. For instance, what was said about the under-insurance was not that the Guimet was cutting costs, but that these objects had been deliberately under-insured because the museum planned from the start to “lose” the consignment and pay the small insured sum and then make a tidy profit by selling the goods on the market. A citizen went to court to block the show, delaying the exhibition’s opening. Then, when the objects started being shipped out, one packing case went missing from the tarmac in Dhaka airport. It had contained two sixth-century terracottas.
The cargo handlers, who were arrested, confessed—under torture—to stealing and destroying the statues. The talk of the artefacts’ high value had led them to believe that the sculptures were filled with gems. When they turned out to be common clay, they threw the fragments into the garbage. Bangladesh cancelled the show. All these pressures must have taken a toll on the young Bangladeshi ambassador to France, because a few days later he collapsed after a meeting at the Guimet and died.
The events and anxieties in Bangladesh tell us how Western museums are seen outside the west: as terrifying places with insatiable appetites for works of art. They are also seen as the arm of a more powerful state, with infinite funds and power at their command. To tell a Bangladeshi protestor that universal museums “build bridges across cultures and promote mutual understanding” would only provoke anger or derision.
The article by Kavita Singh can be read in its entirety here.