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A Fine Balance

The Sensual S–Experiencing Anish Kapoor’s sculpture through movement

Anish Kapoor's S-Curve

Anish Kapoor's S-Curve

Recently, I was invited to lead a movement workshop to explore Anish Kapoor’s S-Curve sculpture that is currently on display at the Smithsonian. Dakshina’s senior dancers assisted me in preparing for the workshop and we discovered how masterfully Kapoor used the very still S-Curve to create movement in and around the sculpture. Kapoor takes the aesthetic of tribanga (three curves) inherent in South Asian sculpture and magnifies it with his stunning horizontal S shaped installation measuring about 7′ tall and 30′ across. The concave/convex curves on the sculpture reflect, distort, rotate and and even make you step into the sculpture at moments creating an Alice in Wonderland feel.

I have three little insights from this experience to share: 1) the synergy between traditional art forms and abstract work, 2) the power of a child’s imagination, and 3) the power of adults who like playing and discovering new ideas.

  1. Celestial Dancer--Sackler Gallery

    Celestial Dancer--Sackler Gallery

    My first insight was regarding the power of abstraction, and its symbiotic relationship to realism. Moving from the tradition temple sculptures to the S-Curve helped me revisit the synergy between abstract art and the more traditional forms that represent the natural world. The strong tension between the two extremes reinforces the beauty of both ideas. In my mind, traditional art (be it the traditional temple sculpture or dance like Bharata Natyam) crystallizes an idea into its essence. In contrast abstract art takes one essential idea, removes the immediacy of context and makes it open to several different interpretations. It is the difference between watching a mirror reflection (the tribanga in the traditional sculptures), versus a kaleidoscopic variation (the explosion of the many Ss in Kapoor’s sculpture). The workshops at the Smithsonian helped me remember my rather non-traditional path from Bharata Natyam to modern dance.
  2. My second insight–the power of imagination–came from a little girl who must have been between 5-6 years. She asked me why the statues of the gods and goddesses have multiple arms but always only show them with two legs? I was stupefied. In all the years that I’ve seen South Asian sculptures, I’ve never once paused to ask that question. The same girl asked us how we’re able to stay together when we were dancing in front of the S-Curve even when the sculpture was distorting our images and reflected the exact same image in multiple ways based on your vantage point. I was astounded by her willingness to play and go along with an idea–whether it was wondering why the arms and legs don’t match up or wondering how to find the right reflection among so many?
  3. Anish Kapoor's S-Curve

    Anish Kapoor's S-Curve

    My final insight–the power of play–came when I was watching two adults interacting with the sculpture using the movement gestures we taught them without inhibitions. These two friends, went to every observation point we had marked around the sculpture and tried the movement phrase we taught them, and often made up their own versions. I maybe biased, but they were experiencing the sculpture from a movement-based physcial vantage point, and they were very comfortable playing in the space with their sense of wonder and imagination intact. They embodied to me what the Kapoor was doing in the S-Curve, they were creating their own stories from what was presented to them. That is the ultimate power of abstraction–that it allows each one of us to make our own unique stories. But to get this point, you have to start at the foundation that realism provides. The two concepts are like the see-saw–they balance and support each other. Read the comments from the two participants I mention here.


Please do visit the Sackler and spend some time playing with and around the S-Curve if you haven’t done so already.


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