On the morning that David Cameron is giving a press conference on the UK’s future role in Afghanistan, Scott King’s latest book seems even more significant. Anish & Antony Take Afghanistan is a graphic novel that Scott sees as “a critique of the deployment of public art,” which satirises how far we’re prepared to enforce our cultural values on others. Through Scott’s writing and Will Henry’s illustrations, we follow as Anish (Kapoor) and Antony (Gormley) try and bring cultural regeneration to the war-torn country.
Scott explains: “About a year ago I started wondering; if the government or these artists believe they can save the post industrial north-east with The Angel of the North or Temenos in Middlesborough, then surely they can save or rescue or regenerate Afghanistan by the same process?”
He played around with Photoshopping pictures of public art into landscapes of Helmand Province but the results ere “too trite and too easy.” It was only after coming across Will’s work on Twitter that the project started to take shape.
“The graphic novel as a form allowed possibilities that Photoshop couldn’t. There’s no grand intellectual point; it just seemed like a very suitable medium. I wanted it to feel like a Victor or a Hotspur comic from the 60s and 70s which are implicitly heroic because of the way they are drawn. It needed to look like that that because what I am asking them to do in their mind is this heroic rescuing of a nation.”
Gormley and Kapoor make for perfect central characters, but Scott stresses that it’s about something bigger than two individuals.
“It’s easy to pick on them in the same way punk picked on Genesis and Yes. They’re very easy targets as the highly visible beneficiaries of this culture. There’s the great gift of one being about five feet tall and one being seven feet tall – which is great in any comedy duo – and there’s a pomposity about them too when you read their interviews.
“But it’s about the culture that creates that. These beacons of positivity – and I would include things like the Turner Contemporary in Margate – actually create a middle class ghetto in a very poor area.
“I’m not a militant; I think it’s a good thing Margate has the Turner Contemporary but you have to be realistic that it’s not for everyone and it alienates as many people as it brings in perhaps. Similarly the culture that develops around it; if you have a public art museum or a totemic public sculpture what happens around that is vintage fucking bike shops and high end coffee shops.
“It’s a band-aid solution. It doesn’t change the culture, it doesn’t create anything much more; it’s tokenistic, not negative but tokenistic.”
Anish & Antony Take Afghanistan is available now. It will feature in the forthcoming shows De-Regeneration at Spacex, Exeter which runs from 4 October to 22 November and Regenerate Art at Kunstverein Munich which runs from 11 October to 30 November.
About the Author
Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.