Reflections of a memorial to the Holocaust

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The Independent Online
Deep black stone, concave shaped, with a polished interior that reflects the viewer upside down; this is the Holocaust memorial sculpted over two years by the former Turner Prize winner Anish Kapoor.

The memorial, in the foyer of St John's Wood Liberal Synagogue in London, will be dedicated in 10 days' time, on Remembrance Sunday, in a service attended by the Israeli, German and Austrian ambassadors.

But behind the finished work lie eight years of debate and soul-searching over the form of a memorial to commemorate the dead and have a message for future generations.

The synagogue's shortlist for the pounds 25,000 commission resembled a shortlist for the Turner prize itself, with the final choice between two former winners, Kapoor and Anthony Gormley. Gormley's proposed sculpture, involving a pair of hands, was deemed too figurative, compared with Kapoor's abstract and elemental work.

For both the rabbi, David Goldberg, and the 42-year-old artist - himself half-Jewish - the journey towards a fitting memorial was a painful one.

Rabbi Goldberg said: "It took a long and very, very painful time. Holocaust survivors at the synagogue felt no memorial could be adequate, no artistic representation could represent the horror they had been through. But teachers here wanted to teach the future generations.."

Kapoor was putting the finishing touches to his piece yesterday. The memorial has been sculpted from a block of black limestone from Kilkenny and has been hollowed out to create an empty space. For the first time, in his work, Kapoor has polished the interior to make it reflective.

"Any memory can only be a token," he says. "It must not become an icon, but should prompt remembrance both for the survivors and succeeding generations. Stones are dumb, yet they can mark a place where remembrance can occur.

"It was a difficult commission. What do I know about the Holocaust? I'm a different generation, a different kind of Jew [born in Bombay, he is on his mother's side the 15th generation of an Iraqi Jewish family] but it is my history, and is my pain.

"One can't give form to that public grief. It always turns into sentimentality. Grief is private. In a sense, grief is deeply lonely."