Anish Kapoor Wants Museums to Stop Tokenizing Non-Western Artists

“No more tokens masquerading as representation.”

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The police killing of George Floyd in May sparked mass protests nationwide with Black Lives Matter demonstrators demanding racial justice and pressuring local officials to to defund police departments. Brands, organizations, and individuals have also taken to social media to show their support for BLM by posting statements, resources and lists to help educate viewers and elevate Black visibility.

In the art world, however, many institutions have come under great scrutiny over their online statements on racial diversity and representation that isn’t reflected on their own programming and hiring practices. Influential sculptor, Anish Kapoor, recently penned an emotional OP-ED article on Artnet calling for museums to stop tokenizing non-western artists amid the ongoing protests.

“Ever since the start of my public career in London in the late ‘70s–early ‘80s, I have had to suffer what I consider to be the indignity of being described as an ‘Indian’ artist. Considered thus not just because of my name, but also for what I did with my work,” the artist wrote in his first statements. He then expressed later in the article: “An artist of my origin, or rather an artist of any non-Western origin, has to suffer the indignity of having their creative force attributed almost in full to their background or ethnic culture (“Indian rope trick”). This is not something that American artists, French artists, British artists, or artists of Western origin have to endure.”

One of the museums Kapoor criticizes as being tokenistic is the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “I look in horror at the recent reopening of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and see in the name of so-called ‘World Art’ tokens from here, there, and everywhere. Artists represented like so many little jewels found in street markets, displayed like trophies one stacked on top of the other. But of course the great artist—the great MALE WHITE ARTIST Richard (bless you) Serra has a room of his own in which to show off his magnificent mastery. F**k you MoMA. What a disgrace,” he said. “We cannot and will not accept this any longer.”

The artist concludes his piece by saying that museums need to give full representation to non-western artists. He also stresses that artists of color “must have the courage to say NO” until institutions acknowledge their works and practices in an “honorable” manner. “No more tokens masquerading as representation.”

Read the full OP-ED on Artnet here and then check out our growing list of Black-owned galleries and museums from across the globe to support.

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