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419608 IOC XXX10.1177/0306422011419608 The Art IssueA Singular Voice
Ai Weiwei: ‘Marble Chair’, 2008, marble, 120 × 56 × 46 cm Courtesy: Ai Weiwei and Lisson Gallery
A SINGULAR VOICE
Anish Kapoor explains why artists have a duty to take a political stand for freedom of expression
14 a singular voice
Celebrated sculptor Anish Kapoor campaigned for Ai Weiwei’s release this year, when he was detained for 81 days, and withdrew as a protest from participation in the British Council ‘UK Now’ show next year in China.
Index: When you made the decision to withdraw from the show in Beijing and to make a stand for Ai Weiwei, had you ever made that kind of political gesture before?
Anish Kapoor: When Ai Weiwei was arrested, I was doing this work in Paris at the Grand Palais [‘Leviathan’]. I thought about it long and hard – should I, shouldn’t I dedicate the work to Ai Weiwei? What does it mean? One has to be very clear that in doing such a thing you never do it without a degree of self-interest. I needed to understand what my self-interest was and what I was trying to do. Was this about Ai Weiwei or was it about me? And I decided in the end that as one of the big shows in Europe during the summer, I could dedicate it to Ai Weiwei and that it wasn’t about me. I discovered in doing it that actually I have a voice that I probably didn’t know I had before and I think that’s very important. And then I felt that since I’d already taken a stand, the show that the British Council was planning [‘UK Now’ in China next year] required a further stand. I think it’s essential that while there are still a hundred and more people locked up in Chinese jails – I’m talking about intellectuals, I’m not for the moment talking about ordinary people who go on the internet – I think it’s the duty of all artists to stand up and say we won’t take part. I’ve called out to artists all over – don’t take part, don’t show in China. A few have started to respond. I see that Daniel Buren, the great French conceptual artist, has pulled a show in China, and there are others. I’m glad to see it. It means something.
Index: You also proposed that galleries close for a day across the world and said it would be good for the art world to come together more.
Anish Kapoor: It’s perhaps naïve of me, but I think it’s important that we stand together for colleagues. It’s very hard for galleries to close for a day, but rather than a negative action, I feel in the end we were about to make a positive action on the anniversary of the 100 days of Ai Weiwei’s incarceration, but thankfully he was released. The positive action was to try and get thousands of galleries all over the world to show a work of Ai Weiwei’s.