Grayson Perry @ National Portrait Gallery


Grayson Perry seeks to provoke his audience into asking themselves who they are. The artist has created 14 unique portraits of Britons who are in the midst of defining their identity. These portraits which have been presented to us by Perry in a series of Channel 4 documentaries are dispersed throughout the National Portrait Gallery in the hope that this may cause the rest of us to become inspired and turn within ourselves to ask what it is that makes us the unique individuals that we are.

Among Perry’s sitters are celebrities, transsexuals, religious converts, political activists to name but a few. The group of people the artist has chosen to depict come from a large range of different social, religious and ethnic backgrounds. The sitters also encompass a variety of age ranges: from a mixed race child adopted by two, white male parents to an elderly couple facing Alzheimer’s.

While it can be argued that the majority of the people comprising the exhibits on display have little in common with the most of us, Perry does succeed in showing just how diverse British culture and society is. His works also span multiple different forms of media from blankets, posters and even a hijab, not to mention the pots that made Perry famous in the first place. The artist’s works bring a sense of colour as well as new life into the galleries, which mostly consist of dark paintings of the aristocracy throughout British history.

Though one should commend Perry for his efforts to place his works among the gallery’s permanent collections in order to engage viewers with British art history, his efforts appeared to me to have been in vain. When I went to visit the exhibition, the majority of viewers preferred to move straight from piece to piece following the map that the artist had provided. Had Perry not made a map for the viewing public to find his art, perhaps they would have been forced to spend more time with the permanent displays whilst searching for the work from the televised series.

Whether it is his colourful portraits of not-so-ordinary individuals or his celebrity status that has brought viewers to the National Portrait Gallery, this exhibition is certainly not to be missed. I’m not sure if it caused me to question my own identity, but I do urge others to see if they leave asking themselves what it is that constitutes their make-up. And if that isn’t enough, the exhibition opens with a fabulous image that did not feature in the television series.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You? is on display at National Portrait Gallery until 25 October

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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