Image: Philip Carr
Anish Kapoor was born in Bombay in 1954 and has lived in London since the early 1970s when he studied at Hornsey College of Art and Chelsea School of Art & Design.
Over the past twenty years he has exhibited extensively in London and all over the world. His solo shows have included venues such as Kunsthalle Basel, Tate Gallery and Hayward Gallery in London, Reina Sofia in Madrid, CAPC in Bordeaux and most recently Haus der Kunst in Munich. He has also participated internationally in many group shows including the Whitechapel Art Gallery, The Royal Academy and Serpentine Gallery in London, Documenta IX in Kassel, Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Jeu de Paume and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Anish Kapoor was awarded the ‘Premio Duemila’ at the Venice Biennale in 1990, the Turner Prize Award in 1991 and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship at the London Institute in 1997 and a CBE in 2003. He is represented by the Lisson Gallery, London, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York and Galleria Continua and Galleria Massimo Minini, Italy.
The 2009 Brighton Festival
Anish Kapoor was the Guest Artist Director of Brighton Festival 2009 and chose seven works to exhibit in and around Brighton & Hove.
The works, two being new commissions, were selected or created by Kapoor for five specific sites across the city: Fabrica Gallery, The Pavilion Gardens, The Basement, The Old Municipal Market on Circus Street, and The Chattri on the edge of the South Downs.
The ideas behind these works provided a unique focus for the Festival programme, and an innovative way of engaging with the many artforms that Brighton Festival regularly presents.
Fabrica played host to an exhibition comprising: Blood Relations, a collaboration with novelist Salman Rushdie; 1000 Names, 1979-1980 and a third work, Music Boxes, a collaboration between Anish Kapoor and composer Brian Elias, was intended for the exhibition but was left out by the artist.
Dismemberment of Jeanne D’Arc at The Old Municipal Market, Circus Street (new commission)
Sky Mirror at Pavilion Gardens
C-Curve at The Chattri, South Downs near Patcham
Imagined Monochrome (Massage) at The Basement
Brighton Festival ran from May 2 – May 24, 2009.
Blood Relations – An Interrogation of Arabian Nights
This piece is for Anish Kapoor
© Salman Rushdie
So: how many women did they actually kill, this King, this Shahryar, the Sassanid monarch of the island or peninsula (jazeera) of “India and China,” and his brother Shah Zaman, sovereign ruler over barbarian Samarkand? It began, or so the story goes, when Shah Zaman found his wife in the arms of a palace cook, whose chief characteristics were that he was (a) black, (b) huge and (c) covered in kitchen grease.
In spite of, or perhaps because of these characteristics, the queen of Samarkand was obviously having far too much fun, so Shah Zaman chopped her and her lover into several pieces, left them there on the bed of their delight, and headed for his brother’s home; where, not long afterwards, he chanced to espy his sister-in-law, Shahryar’s queen, in a garden, by a fountain, in the company of ten ladies-inwaiting and ten white slaves. The ten and ten were busy gratifying one another; the queen, however, summoned her own lover down from a convenient tree. This hideous fellow was – yes! – (a) black, (b) huge and (c) slobbering. What fun they had, the ten and ten and the queen and her “blackamoor”! Ah, the malice and treachery of womankind, and the unaccountable attraction of huge, ugly, dripping black men! Shah Zaman told his brother what he had seen; whereupon the ladies in waiting, the white slaves and the queen all met their fates, personally executed by Shahryar’s chief minister, his Vizier or Wazir. The slobbering black lover of Shahryar’s late queen escaped, or so it seems; how else to explain his absence from the list of the dead? Lucky man!
King Shahryar and King Shah Zaman duly took their revenge on faithlesswomankind. For three years, they each married, fucked and then ordered the execution of a fresh virgin every night. It is not clear how Shah Zaman in Samarkand went about his gory business, but of Shahryar’s methods there are things that can be told. It is known, for instance, that the Vizier – Scheherazade’s father, Shahryar’s wise prime minister – was obliged to carry out the executions himself. All those beautiful young bodies, decapitated; all those tumbling heads and bloody, spurting necks. The Vizier was a cultured gentleman: not only a man of power but also a person of discernment, even of delicate sensibilities – he must have been, must he not, to have raised such a paragon, such a wondrously gifted, multiply accomplished, heroically courageous, selfless daughter as Scheherazade? And Dunyazad, too, let’s not forget the kid sister, Dunyazad. Another good, smart, decent girl. What would it do to the soul of the father of such fine girls to be forced to execute young women by the hundred, to slit girls’ throats and see their lifeblood flow? What secret fury might have burgeoned in his subtle breast? We are not told. We do know, however, that Shahryar’s subjects began to resent him mightily, and to flee his capital city with their womenfolk, so that after three years there were no virgins to be found in town. No virgins except Scheherazade and Dunyazad. How did Shahryar behave towards his doomed brides? Was he cold or hot? Did he roughly deflower them and then hurl them scornfully at his chosen axeman, or did he treat them, while they lived through that single night in the conjugal bed, like the queens they so briefly and fatally became? Did he show them tenderness, was he merely aroused or was he careful, did he give pleasure as well as receiving it, and did these royal couplings improbably achieve, beneath Death’s watchful gaze, a few moments of delirious abandon? And if the girls saw desire in his eyes, did they dare to dream, during their dreadful first-and-last nights, that the king’s lust might save them? Did he torment his victims by granting them the priapic illusion of hope? There are no answers. There are only questions. We are alone with our imaginations, and with arithmetic.
Three years: one thousand and ninety-five nights, one thousand and ninety-five dead queens for Shahryar, one thousand and ninety-five more for Shah Zaman, or one thousand and ninety-six each if a leap year was involved. Let’s err on the low side. One thousand and ninety-five each let it be. And let us not forget the original twenty-three. By the time Scheherazade entered the story, marrying King Shahryar and ordering her sister Dunyazad to sit at the foot of the marital bed and to ask, after Scheherazade’s deflowering was complete, to be told a bedtime story…by this time, Shahryar and Shah Zaman were already responsible for two thousand, two hundred and thirteen deaths. Only eleven of the dead were men.
Shahryar, upon marrying Scheherazade and being captivated by her tales, stopped killing women. Shah Zaman, untamed by literature, went right on with his vengeful work, slaughtering each morning the virgin he’d ravished the night before, demonstrating to the female sex the power of men over women, the ability of men to separate fornication from love, and the inevitable union, as far as women were concerned, of sexuality and death. In Samarkand the carnage continued for at least another one thousand nights and one night, because it was only at the conclusion of the entire cycle of Scheherazade’s tales, when that greatest of storytellers begged to be spared, not in recognition of her genius but only for the sake of the three sons she had given Shahryar during the fabled years, and when Shahryar confessed his love for her, the last of his one thousand and ninety-eight wives, and gave up all pretence of murderous intent, that Shah Zaman’s project also ended; cleansed at last of blood-lust, he asked for, and received, sweet Dunyazad’s hand in marriage. The minimum total number of the dead by this time was, by my calculation, three thousand, two hundred and fourteen.
Only eleven of the dead were men.
Three thousand, two hundred and three headless queens. The human body contains six quarts, 5.6 litres, of blood. If the queens were killed by simple beheading, then their hearts would have stopped at once and much of this blood would have coagulated within their lifeless bodies. If, however, they were killed as animals were, that is to say, by having their throats slit so that the heart could go on pumping, then almost eighteen thousand litres of human blood would have poured out of three thousand-odd necks. The average household bath holds two hundred litres. The dead queens provided enough blood to fill ninety baths, enough for Shahryar and Shah Zaman to bathe once a month in human blood during the three pre-Scheherazade years, and for Shah Zaman to go on bathing in this fashion, monthly, until he, too, saw the light. Is that what they did? We cannot know. We have only arithmetic and imagination to help us understand.
Ninety blood baths. Imagine that.
Scheherazade, whose name meant “city-born” and who was without a doubt a bigcity girl, crafty, wisecracking, by turns sentimental and cynical, as contemporary a metropolitan narrator as one could wish to meet – Scheherazade, who snared the prince in her never-ending story. Scheherazade, telling stories to save her life, literally fabulating against death, a Statue of Liberty built not of metal but of words. Scheherazade, who insisted, against her father’s will, on taking her place in the procession into the king’s deadly boudoir. Scheherazade, who set herself the heroic task of saving her sisters by taming the king. Who had faith, who must have had faith, in the man beneath the murderous monster, and in her own ability to restore him, by telling him stories, to his true humanity.
What a woman!
It’s easy to understand how and why King Shahryar fell in love with her. For certainly he did fall, becoming the father of her children, and understanding, as the nights progressed, that his threat of execution had become empty, that he could no longer ask his Vizier, her father, to carry it out. His savagery was blunted by the genius of the woman who, for a thousand nights and one night, risked her life to save the lives of others, who trusted her imagination to stand against brutality and overcome it not by force but, amazingly, by civilizing it.
But why – this is the greatest unanswered question of the Arabian Nights Ñ why on earth did she fall in love with him?
And, as a footnote: why did Dunyazad, the younger sister who sat at the foot of the marital bed for one thousand nights and one night, watching her sister being fucked by the murderous king, and listening to her stories – Dunyazad, the eternal listener, but also voyeur – why did she agree to marry Shah Zaman, a man even deeper in blood than his story-charmed brother? How can we understand these women?
In one of his late masterpieces Henri Matisse celebrated the potent phrase with which each night – except the last – comes to an end: Elle vît apparaître le matin; elle se tut discrètement. “She saw the approach of morning, and fell silent, discreetly.”
Words are life, but so is discreet and well-timed silence. And yet there is a silence in the tale that cries out to be spoken of. Beneath the glittering sea of fabulous words lies hidden, like a drowned city, a great psychological novel: the grand, perverse and profound love story, the mystery of Scheherazade and her Shahryar.
How shall we tell this story?
We have exhausted arithmetic. What remains is imagination.
This much we are told: that after the stories were over Shah Zaman and Dunyazad were married, but Scheherazade made one condition: that Shah Zaman leave his kingdom and come to live with his brother, so that the sisters might not be parted. This Shah Zaman gladly did, and Shahryar appointed, to rule over Samarkand in his brother’s stead, that same Vizier who was now also his father-in-law. When the Vizier arrived in Samarkand he was greeted by the townspeople very joyfully and all the local grandees prayed that he might reign over them for a long time. Which he did. The silences in this ending scream to be given voice. Was there a conspiracy between the daughter and the father? Is it possible that Scheherazade and the Vizier had hatched a secret plan? For, thanks to Scheherazade’s condition, Shah Zaman was no longer king in Samarkand. Thanks to Scheherazade’s condition, her father was no longer a courtier and unwilling executioner, but a king in his own right, a well-beloved king, what was more, a wise man, a man of peace, succeeding a bloody ogre. And after a time, without explanation, Death came for Shahryar and Shah Zaman. Death, the Destroyer of Delights and the Severer of Societies, the Desolator of Dwelling Places and the Garnerer of Graveyards; and lo, their palaces lay in ruins, and they were replaced by a wise ruler, whose name we are not told.
There is a riddle here.
How and why did the Destroyer of Delights arrive? How was it that both brothers died simultaneously, as the text clearly implies, and why did their palaces afterwards lie in ruins? And who was their successor, the Unnamed
This is the conclusion the tale refuses to reach. Imagine, once again, the Vizier filling up with fury as he was forced to spill all that innocent blood. Imagine the years of the Vizier’s fear, the one thousand and one nights of fear, while his
daughters, flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood, were hidden in Shahryar’s bedroom, their fate hanging by a story’s thread.
And where was Scheherazade and Dunyazad’s mother all this time?
About this mother, the many volumes of story say not one single word. Had she died or did she live? If she was dead, then her children were all that the bereaved husband had left of his beloved wife, which would have greatly multiplied his terror of their loss, and his rage on their behalf. But if the mother was still alive, then the river of her fear and her fury would have joined her husband’s – and what a mighty, bloody torrent that would have been!
How long will a man wait for his revenge?
Will he wait longer than one thousand nights and one night?
And what of Scheherazade and Dunyazad? Were they a pair of scheming tricksters, deceitfully surrendering their bodies for a time – for a long time in the case of Scheherazade, a briefer period in Dunyazad’s case – in order, finally, to be avenged on the blood-drenched pair? To claim their husband’s corpses in the name of their dead sisters, and of their parents’ grief?
But there are stranger questions still.
Could these women have truly loved their dark and blood-soaked lords? Did such savagery engender, in these perfect girls, a forbidden but erotically enlivening desire? Did Scheherazade, at least, succumb over those intense, sequestered years to the charms of her black monarch upon his royal bed of blood, and did Dunyazad, too, after her arranged marriage begin to have feelings for the nolonger-murderous, and perhaps handsome, perhaps in many ways attractive man whose bride she had consented to become; did love come to seem, for a time, a force more powerful than the memory of the dead? And did they kill them in spite of love, not because of its absence – did they come to conspire at the two kings’ deaths, loving them as they did, because the blood of the dead cried out to them, because the blood of the dead accused and judged them, and proved, in the end, to be a value more potent than even the power of love?
Was the Vizier the wise king who came home to rule the island or peninsula (jazeera) of all India and China in the dead brothers’ stead?
Did the Kings die at their wives’ loving or deceitful hands?
I cannot tell this story. Only Scheherazade could have done so, for it was her last, most secret tale. Yet she chose not to tell it. Love and blood were at war within her, and she could not speak. She saw the approach of morning, and fell silent, discreetly.
The final count of the dead was three thousand, two hundred and sixteen.
Thirteen of the dead were men.