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Grayson Perry reveals artworks as part of Channel 4 series on identity

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Grayson Perry reveals smashed portrait of Chris Huhne and hijab for Muslim convert as part of Channel 4 series on identity in contemporary Britain

The Turner-Prize winning artist Grayson Perry today reveals a series of new works created during his Channel 4 series: Grayson Perry: Who Are You? The works will go on display in the nineteenth-century galleries at the National Portrait Gallery, placed among portraits of the great generals, monarchs and politicians of the past to form a display accompanying the programmes.

The new series, which begins on Wednesday 22 October at 10pm, sees Perry explore identity in contemporary Britain through the creation of portraits. In each of the programmes, Grayson spends time with a series of people who are at a crossroads or crisis in their own identity, and makes works that try to capture each of them in a single, revealing image.

Among these works is a portrait of the former politician Chris Huhne, who appears in the first episode of the series. Huhne fell from grace when his wife Vicky Pryce revealed that he had asked her to take the blame for his speeding offence. He resigned from the cabinet and was subsequently jailed for perverting the course of justice. Perry secured the last interview with Huhne and his girlfriend Carina Trimingham the night before his sentencing and was the first to interview him the morning of his release from prison.

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The Huhne Vase is decorated with a repeating pattern among whose motifs are Huhne’s face, his personalised number plate and a penis. The ceramic pot was purposefully smashed by Perry and then repaired using an ancient Chinese technique, where the cracks are repaired using lacquer resin dusted or mixed with gold.

Grayson Perry commented: “I wanted to include Chris Huhne [because] he represents what I call Default Man, a white, middle class, middle aged, heterosexual man, an identity group that hides in plain sight. I have represented Chris as a series of repeat patterns. This is a riposte to the common Default Man’s defence that he is an ‘individual’ and his achievements and behaviour have nothing to do with a group identity. I have smashed the pot and had it repaired with gold to symbolise that vulnerability might be an asset in relationships to such a person.”

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Another extraordinary new piece is the Ashford Hijab, Perry’s portrait of young Muslim convert Kayleigh Khosravi, from Ashford in Kent. Young white women in their twenties (like Kayleigh) are the UK population group most likely to convert to Islam. Kayleigh’s conversion followed a difficult childhood and the births of her four children. As part of the series, Grayson spent time with her and her family, and visited the mosque she attends – a converted pub across the road from the Ashford Designer Outlet Centre. His portrait takes the form of a silk hijab portraying her and her children on the symbolic path from that temple of consumerism to the focal point of the Muslim faith at Mecca.

Grayson Perry commented: “What does Islam offer to a young white woman in her twenties? The answer, I found, appears to be a refuge from the nagging consumer pressures and constant, often sexual, scrutiny of women all pervasive in western society. Conversion also offers a strong and supportive sisterhood within the congregation of the mosque.”

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Among the other sitters featured in the programme are a young transgender man, Loyalist marchers in Northern Ireland, deaf parents, a couple living with Alzheimer’s and X-Factor and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Rylan Clark. Some of the sitters have become miniatures, some large tapestries, some statues and some pots. The series will show the inspiration for and creation of all of the works, and all will form part of the display at the National Portrait Gallery.

Grayson Perry: Who Are You? begins on Channel 4 on 22 October at 10pm; the accompanying free display at the National Portrait Gallery, sponsored by Coutts, opens 25 October. His book Playing to the Gallery is published by Penguin.

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