Anish Kapoor’s major showcase is in full swing at the Royal Academy in London. His work has been well regarded amongst critics and art-lovers for decades. It has been used to decorate and add interest to many urban landmarks across the globe and continues to draw in new admirers.
I wonder, therefore, if his name will come to permeate the domestic sphere of NRI life. NRIs are undoubtedly differently perceptive to art around the world – so their relationships with local culture will undoubtedly fluctuate. I’m curious to know, however, what might happen if I take a group of middle-aged Indian women to see the latest retrospective.
Kapoor’s recent collection is combined with some of his earlier pieces. It inspires a genuine sense of awe and wonder alongside a fair amount of intrigue and perhaps discomfort. The sensuous and all too biological feel of some of the smooth and round shapes is occasionally evocative of something a bit erotic and impermissible. I feel like a naughty Victorian who has been staring at the ankles of a table for far too long. Voyeurism therefore begins to play a big part. For me, this meant that at some stages I felt like I was in an operating theatre, looking in at the insides of a biological entity that I wouldn’t otherwise see (Slug, 2009). At others, it felt as if I was staring at phallic and smooth objects indicative of movement and gesticulation (as felt through Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked, 2008). Of course this may be different to the surface denotation, but sometimes you just can’t deny what you instinctively feel. Adding to this, was of course Kapoor’s use of vivid red, which was most powerfully felt through Shooting into the Corner, 2009. This piece is a repetitive canon firing red shells of wax into a corner of a room at twenty minute intervals. It’s shocking, beautiful and violent. Instinctively I think of blood, as perhaps that is what a cannonball seeks to achieve. Whether or not this piece is supposed to remind us of violence and then inspire us towards pacifism is questionable, but you’d be forgiving for feeling such a way. Underneath all of this, you begin to detect a strong undercurrent of ritualism.
Red is naturally embroiled in ritualism. It’s the colour of blood, passion and tradition; used to express both danger and devotion. When one looks at As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers, 1981 – they see a series of different shapes largely composed of red pigment. Red pigment, as we know is powerful stuff, used as sindoor, colouring, decoration and symbolic of bridal wear. At the same time, in another medium, (that is in the shape of wax) it becomes a lot more elusive and suspect. I’m not suggesting it is to be perceived as a secret code, not like Redrum in The Shining for instance, but that the multi-faceted nature of the colour and the medium is clearly there to be enjoyed and peeled away.
Elsewhere, we have interesting looking curves and bio-shapes, I would question whether culturally, we owe a lot of inspiration to religion and nature: the plant, the lingam, the snake, the almond, the mountains for example? These are questions that can only be answered by Kapoor, but the success of the exhibition is down to us making active links to them. To put these notions to an older NRI generation, who may or may not be familiar or comfortable with this collection would definitely be exciting.
For me, the highlights of the exhibit are the effortlessly charming mirrored sculptures. Often these are referred to as Non Objects as they’re essentially a collection of convex and concave reflections of the surrounding space as seen through an array of differently shaped reflective surfaces. There is something profound about a mirror, before you can begin any assessment of what it is, you’re annoyingly distracted by the notion of self. This becomes a metaphor for the exhibit at large. It’s not so much a collection of items reflecting Kapoor’s psyche, but a collection that asks us to consider the range of attitudes it conjures up in us. This is felt powerfully in the external sculpture situated in the Royal Academy’s courtyard, Tall Tree and the Eye, 2009, which is in essence, a series of reflective balls elegantly mounted on top of one another, resembling an organic entity such as a tree emerging from the ground towards the sky. The key term is in its title and most significantly the word ‘eye’. The tree of course is the eye, but it is made up from the hundreds of little eyes staring into it.