On Monday The Guardian put out a press association report on high-profile sculptor Anish Kapoor’s acceptance of Israel’s $1 million Genesis prize. The prize is awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation, the office of the Israeli prime minister and the Jewish Agency for Israel and “recognises individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their fields and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and the State of Israel”.
Kapoor is said to be set to donate the prize money to help refugees. Israeli government officials have previously been explicit about the role of the arts in producing a more friendly and progressive profile for the state which is otherwise associated with violence and policies of occupation, colonisation and apartheid.
On Wednesday, two artists, signatories to the Artists Pledge for Palestine, respond in the pages of the Guardian pointing out that “as long as artists like Kapoor continue to accept these obscenely large gifts, they gift Israel the social license to pursue its ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.”
Guardian letters, February 8th 2017:
Anish Kapoor accepts Israel’s $1 million Genesis prize and makes a heartfelt statement about the plight of refugees – but fails to mention the word “Palestinian” [The Guardian 06.02.2017]. Predictably, his words have been packaged by the prize organizers (co-sponsored by the office of the Israeli Prime Minister) for a global audience, and yesterday they provided Israel with a $1 million PR victory. It’s laudable that Kapoor wishes to give the prize money to refugee support. But given that Palestinians form one of the largest and most long-standing refugee populations on the planet, and given that the Genesis prize rewards “commitment to the state of Israel”, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Kapoor’s call for empathy for refugees has been used to improve Israel’s poor image abroad and promote empathy for Israel at the expense of its victims. For as long as artists like Kapoor continue to accept these obscenely large gifts they gift Israel the social license to pursue its ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.
Miranda Pennell and John Smith, artists