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Meet Anish Kapoor, the Sculptor Wizard Who Dares to be Provocative

As the maverick sculptor turns 65, let’s take a look at his life and times in art. 

Updated
World
3 min read

(This story has been reposted from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Anish Kapoor’s birthday. It was originally published on 12 March 2018.)

If you are looking for wizards, and not the JK Rowling kind, then you might as well turn to master visualiser Anish Kapoor’s exemplary body of work. Words such as virtuoso, maestro, and genius attributed to this man, known for his colossal yet adventurous artworks, fall short of describing the artist.

Touted as one of the most influential British sculptors from his generation, Kapoor is credited with creating some of the most iconic obtuse yet high-drama installation adventures as public art. But let us learn more about his life.

Kapoor was born in Mumbai to parents of Hindu-Jewish heritage. With his father being a hydrographer in the navy, Kapoor spent most of his childhood at the shores collecting data and charting marine navigation, The Guardian reported.

He later attended the elite Doon school in Dehradun. Despite his “cosmopolitan” schooling, his years at what is known as “India’s Eton” were short-lived. He ended up detesting his school days. As a young Jewish boy who was troubled by his sense of belonging, he spent years undergoing psychoanalysis in his 20s, the report added.

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When Kapoor’s Turmoil Helped Him Discover His True Calling

According to the report, Kapoor’s “wonderfully modern” parents were keen for both their sons to see the world. At the age of 16 in 1970, he moved to Israel and lived on a kibbutz and studied electrical engineering. His true calling, he later realised, lay in art. In 1973, his relocation to London to study art at the Hornsey College of Art and then the Chelsea School of Art and Design was a “total liberation” from the period of psychological turmoil that had besieged his identity in his late teens.

Art seemed to have offered the troubled “Kibbutznik Jewish Indian” visual artist-in-the-making a vital medium of expression.

But it certainly didn’t come easy, especially as a means of living in the 1970s when a paltry 10 British artists were finding it tough to make a living from their art.

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The Guardian report added that a trip back to India was a blessing in disguise. It was an epiphany that helped him discover “the ritual” in his art.

This application of craft led him to his first awe-inspiring creation – the massive steel structure ‘Marsyas’ in 1992.

After his breakthrough moment, the knighted artist’s signature sculptures till date have been seen in New York, London, Chicago, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Delhi, among other places.

His best-known works include the concrete stucco tower ‘Building for Void’ (1992), the bean-shaped ‘Cloud Gate’ (2006) in Chicago, the hour-glass shaped ‘Turning the world upside down’ (2010) in Jerusalem, the inflated mobile concert hall ‘Ark of Nova’ in Japan, the giant whirlpool of water ‘Descension’ (2014) exhibited at the Kochi-Biennale, India’s first contemporary, the Culture Trip reported.

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Since the early 1980s, the use of blood, wax, brightly colored pigments, female anatomy and geometric forms has been predominant in his artwork, the Guardian report added. 

With the use mirrored objects that camouflage themselves in their environment, illusion has been a staple in all of Kapoor’s artworks.

When Kapoor’s Provocative Art Invited Outrage

The sculptor wizard has often engaged in creating art that is provocative, why is precisely why he invokes admiration as well as disapproval.

Kapoor courted controversy for ‘Dirty Corner’ (2011), a massive steel sculptured erected in Paris’ Palace of Versailles. Kapoor said it was symbolic of “Queen’s Vagina.” The sculpture was defaced and vandalised with anti-Semitic slogans for its “sexual” nature. The next year, spiral walkaway ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’ commissioned for 2012 London Olympics was criticised for being a “vanity project.”

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Enter Vantablack, the darkest substance on earth. Kapoor bought exclusive rights to the material but his act of monopoly was met with disdain. Despite criticism, Kapoor’s work has been lauded over the years for stimulating viewers’ minds to see beyond the obvious.

Unflinchingly accepting the argument and outrage over his works, Kapoor said:

We live in a fractured world. I’ve always seen it as my role as an artist to attempt to make wholeness.


(With inputs from The Guardian, Times of India, PTI)

(Images sourced from Twitter, AnishKapoor.com, Reuters, Instagram)

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