'Jewish Nobel' Ceremony Canceled at Anish Kapoor’s Request Over Syrian Refugees

Indian artist says fete is 'inappropriate' with such suffering next door, pledges to donate $1 million Genesis prize to victims

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Anish Kapoor.
Anish Kapoor.Credit: Drew Angerer/AFP
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

At the behest of Indian Jewish artist Sir Anish Kapoor, the ceremony at which he was supposed to be awarded the Genesis Prize – also known as the "Jewish Nobel" – has been canceled. The award foundation says Kapoor intends to donate his prize, about $1 million, to Syrian war refugees.

It would be “inappropriate to hold a festive ceremony” with the horrors of that war so close, the knight and the foundation explained.

The Genesis Foundation said it was sending cancellation notices to hundreds of Jewish dignitaries who were supposed to attend the ceremony in Israel.

By Anish Kapoor, at the Billy Rose Garden, Israel MuseumCredit: Lolita Brayman

The Genesis Prize organization states that it honors people who stood out in their profession and inspired others “through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.”

“Mr. Kapoor and the Genesis Prize Foundation agreed that in light of the escalating war in Syria and the resulting deterioration of the refugee situation there, it would be inappropriate to hold a festive ceremony to honor Mr. Kapoor and his work on refugee issues while children are being killed with chemical and other horrible weapons on Israel’s doorstep,” the foundation stated. 

Turning point

The turning point in the decision to cancel the ceremony was the chemical attack on Syrian civilians on April 4, followed some days later by the bombing of a bus evacuating refugees.

Laureates of the Genesis Prize, which has been awarded since 2014, are required to use the money for philanthropy. Kapoor stated in February that he is an artist, not a politician, and felt that he had to take a stand against suffering. The world has over 60 million refugees at this point and the crisis is right at our door, he wrote.

Instead of holding the ceremony, the foundation says it will raise and donate more money to help Syrian refugees.

Kapoor was born in 1954 to a Jewish mother of Iraqi origin and an Indian father. He lived in Israel for some time in the 1970s but after rejection by the Bezalel art school, moved to Britain, where he became a major name in art. In 1991 he won the Turner Prize and in 2013 was knighted by the queen of England. Among his works are “Turning the World Upside Down,” on display at the Israel Museum; the public sculpture “Cloud Gate in Chicago”; and “Orbit” in London’s Olympic Park. He also created the “70 Candles” project across Britain for International Holocaust Day in 2015, marking 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

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