The artist Anish Kapoor has released an open letter decrying the National Rifle Association and its use of an image of his work in some of its videos. The letter was issued as a joint statement with the organization Everytown for Gun Safety.
In at least two videos, the NRA has used an image of Cloud Gate (2006), Kapoor’s bean-like reflective sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park, which is a popular tourist attraction and sits steps away from the Art Institute of Chicago. In one minute-long video, titled The Clenched Fist of Truth, the NRA attacks the mainstream media as several black-and-white images flash across the screen, among them pictures of the New York Times Building, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign, and Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, as well as footage of protests. The video ends by saying, “The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”
In his letter, Kapoor describes the video, labeled as an advertisement on the NRA’s website, as seeking “to whip up fear and hate. It plays to the basest and most primal impulses of paranoia, conflict and violence, and uses them in an effort to create a schism to justify its most regressive attitudes. Hidden here is a need to believe in a threatening ‘Other’ different from ourselves.”
Kapoor’s letter comes at a time when the conversation around gun violence in America has come to the fore once again, this time in light of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This past Friday, Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has long maintained an A-plus rating from the NRA, signed into law a bill that raised the minimum age to purchase guns in the state to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days (with some exceptions), among other restrictions.
In an email to ARTnews, Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, wrote, “The NRA’s dangerous agenda is on its way out—millions of Americans are rising up to demand a nation in which our loved ones are safe. We are grateful to Anish Kapoor and everyone who continues to spotlight the issue of gun violence, and speak out against groups who would prioritize profits over public safety.”
Kapoor closes the letter by noting the role art must play in society, writing, “Art must stand clear in its mission to recognise the dignity and humanity of all, irrespective of creed or racial origin.”
The full letter follows below.
Last year an image of my work Cloud Gate (in Millennium Park Chicago) was used without my consent in a politicised advertisement for the National Rifle Association (NRA), entitled The Clenched Fist of Truth. The NRA’s ‘advertisement’—as they describe the video on their own website—seeks to whip up fear and hate. It plays to the basest and most primal impulses of paranoia, conflict and violence, and uses them in an effort to create a schism to justify its most regressive attitudes. Hidden here is a need to believe in a threatening ‘Other’ different from ourselves. I am disgusted to see my work—in truth the sculpture of the people of Chicago—used by the NRA to promote their vile message. Recent shootings in Florida, Las Vegas, Texas, and a number of other towns and cities, make it more urgent than ever that this organization is held to account for its ongoing campaign of fear and hate in American society.
Cloud Gate reflects the space around it, the city of Chicago. People visit the sculpture to get married, to meet friends, to take selfies, to dance, to jump, to engage in communal experience. Its mirrored form is engulfing and intimate. It gathers the viewer into itself. This experience, judging by the number of people that visit it every day (two-hundred million to date), still seems to carry the potential to communicate a sense of wonder. A mirror of self and other, both private and collective, Cloud Gate—or the ‘Bean’ as it often affectionately referred to—is an inclusive work that engages public participation. Its success has little to do with me, but rather with the thousands of residents and visitors who have adopted it and embraced it as their ‘Bean’. Cloud Gate has become a democratic object in a space that is free and open to all.
In the NRA’s vile and dishonest video, Cloud Gate appears as part of a montage of iconic buildings that purport to represent ‘Liberal America’ in which the ‘public object’ is the focus of communal exchange. Art seeks new form, it is by its nature a dynamic force in society. The NRA in its nationalist rhetoric uses Cloud Gate to suggest that these ideas constitute a ‘foreign object’ in our midst. The NRA’s video gives voice to xenophobic anxiety, and a further call to ‘arm’ the population against a fictional enemy.
The NRA’s nightmarish, intolerant, divisive vision perverts everything that Cloud Gate—and America—stands for. Art must stand clear in its mission to recognise the dignity and humanity of all, irrespective of creed or racial origin.
Gun violence in the United States affects every citizen of your country—all religions, all cultures, all ages. The NRA’s continued defence of the gun industry makes them complicit in compromising the safety of the many in favour of corporate profit. I support Everytown for Gun Safety and their efforts to build safer communities for everyone across the United States.