Artist Anish Kapoor has spoken out against “abhorrent government policies” towards refugees as he was named the recipient of this year’s Genesis Prize.
The Turner Prize winner, 62, said he wanted to use the award, which has been dubbed the Jewish Nobel by Time magazine, to highlight the plight of refugees.
Kapoor, who is based in the UK but was born in Bombay to a Baghdadi Jewish mother and Indian father, is donating his one million dollar prize (£800,000) to help refugees.
In a statement, Kapoor said that he had to “speak out against indifference for the suffering of others”.
“Jewish identity and history have witnessed recurring conditions of indifference, persecution and Holocaust. Repeatedly, we have had to repossess ourselves and re-identify our communities,” he said.
“As inheritors and carriers of Jewish values it is unseemly, therefore, for us to ignore the plight of people who are persecuted, who have lost everything and had to flee as refugees in mortal danger.”
The sculptor said: “I am an artist, not a politician, and I feel I must speak out against indifference for the suffering of others. There are over 60 million refugees in the world today – whatever the geography of displacement, the refugee crisis is right here on our doorstep.”
He added: “To lose one’s home, one’s land, one’s sense of belonging, is bewildering. All that is left is one’s body… how long before – for so many – even that is lost?”
Kapoor said: “I believe that in the current political climate the world over, it is more important than ever that we continue to stand against the abhorrent government policies that are an offence against our ethics and the very tenets of what it means to be human.
“As Jews, we must question whether this reality is closer to home than we might like, and we must condemn the exclusionist policies and politics of the government that claims to represent us.”
Natan Sharansky, head of the Genesis Prize selection committee, said: “Throughout our history, the Jewish people suffered not only from active and violent anti-Semitism, perpetrated by a minority, but also from the indifference of the majority.
“It is this indifference that made persecution, massacres and the Holocaust possible. Anish Kapoor has campaigned against indifference his whole life. His message is clear, powerful, and inspiring.”
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “I am certain that Anish Kapoor’s passion and commitment to social justice, as well as his creativity and candour, will increase the level of awareness of the catastrophic situation faced by the Syrian refugees. Genesis Prize could not have selected a better laureate or a more timely issue to focus on.”
Kapoor created the Holocaust Memorial for the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London and the 70 candles for Holocaust Memorial Day in Britain in 2015, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The Prize, awarded by the Genesis Prize Foundation, the Office of the Prime Minister of the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, “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”.
Hollywood star Michael Douglas, a previous recipient of the award, said: “The current refugee crisis is one that, unfortunately, we all know too well. Anish Kapoor’s message that we must not stay silent is powerful and important. His desire to help displaced people resonates with the Jewish people, and all humanity.”