Central to the theme of Isaiah 53 is the expiatory power of the servant’s tribulations. We read ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed’ (v.5). This verse goes to the heart of Christian interpretations in which the servant is read as Christ. It is given a potent yet simple visual representation, crossing from the Old Testament to the New, in Anish Kapoor’s The Healing of St Thomas.
As part of an installation for the church of Saint Peter, Cologne, Kapoor hung a red cloth, about a square metre and a half in size, beneath the holy water stoup. It had what appeared to be a small diagonal slit, but on closer inspection was in fact a little pouch or pocket that signified a stylized open wound. The hanging cloth had the look of a Mandylion or Veronica—a cloth or veil miraculously imprinted with the image of Christ—but one reduced to the metonym of a single gash, a kind of visual shorthand for the healing power of Christ’s wounds.
In a previous incarnation of this work a slit was made directly into a gallery wall, but for Saint Peter’s Kapoor felt this would imply too literal a response to the building (Kapoor 1997: 39)—figuratively alluding to the church building as the body of Christ—whereas, in Christian dogmatics, the ‘church’ (as body of Christ) is the people. Instead, a red cloth was chosen as the bearer of the wound, becoming a ‘site of spiritual and visual doubt’ (Kapoor 1998: 38). As the lesson of Saint Thomas teaches us, it is by way of doubt that revelation and redemption may be found, just as (with Isaiah 53 in mind) it is via piacular rites—rites of atonement—that healing comes.
Kapoor, Anish. 1997. Anish Kapoor (Köln: Kunst-Station Sankt Peter)
———. 1998. Anish Kapoor (London and Berkeley: Hayward Gallery and University of Chicago Press)