2021 National Gallery Artist in Residence: Ali Cherri: If you prick us, do we not bleed?

The 2021 National Gallery Artist Ali Cherri in front of Jan van Eyck’s, ‘The Arnolfini Marriage’ Photo © The National Gallery, London

An exhibition of new work that considers how histories of trauma can be explored through a response to museum and gallery collections opens at the National Gallery in March 2022.

If you prick us, do we not bleed? by the Gallery’s 2021 Artist in Residence Ali Cherri, introduces cabinets of curiosity into the heart of the Sainsbury Wing, containing assembled fragments that might look like relics from another collection.

Starting with research in the Gallery’s archive, Cherri has uncovered accounts of five National Gallery paintings* that were vandalised while on display. He was struck by the public’s highly emotional response to these attacks, finding that newspaper articles would describe the damages as if they were wounds inflicted on a living being – even referring to the Gallery’s conservators as surgeons.

He also noticed an overwhelming urge to ‘heal’, make good and hide the damage. This personification of artworks, and the suggestion that they can experience distress, is reflected in the exhibition’s title, taken from Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

In response, Cherri presents a series of mixed media, sculptural installations that recall aspects of each painting and that imagine its life following the vandalism. They bring into question what Cherri calls the ‘politics of visibility’; the decisions we make about how, and to what extent, we accept trauma within museums. By translating each damaged work into a series of objects, Cherri reminds us that we are never truly the same after experiencing violence. 

Assembled in five vitrines reminiscent of early museum displays and cabinets of curiosity, lined up in the Sainsbury Wing and surrounded by Renaissance paintings that often show wounds and suffering, Cherri’s installations resonate with sympathy. 

The 2021 National Gallery Artist in Residence is a collaboration with the Contemporary Art Society, generously supported by Anna Yang and Joseph Schull. Following the display at the National Gallery, the Contemporary Art Society will acquire a work from the Residency for the National Gallery’s project partner, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry.

Ali Cherri, a Beirut-born artist (b. 1976) whose work is inspired by artefacts and the natural world, is the National Gallery’s second Artist in Residence to be chosen since the launch of the Gallery’s new Modern and Contemporary Programme, following the first appointment of Rosalind Nashashibi in 2019.

Based in Beirut and Paris, Cherri uses sculpture, film and installation to pursue the meaning of the built environment and its histories. Often using archaeological relics and sites as a starting point, Cherri’s varied practice explores the processes of excavation, relocation and the museum classification of objects, animal artefacts, images, and their narratives.

Interested in the aesthetics, practices and politics that are associated with classifications and collecting, Cherri has been invited to respond to the National Gallery and the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum to display new work in their spaces.

Cherri, who began his residency in April 2021, has worked in the National Gallery’s on-site artist’s studio, benefiting from the close proximity to its collection, research and archives.  

The National Gallery London, 

Ali Cherri said: ‘It is an honour to have been invited as the Artist in Residence at the National Gallery. The past year has been unprecedented for art institutions, allowing for rethinking the role of the museum in times of crises. I am thrilled to be able to spend the year in close proximity with the Gallery’s unique collection, as well as that of The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. Giving a contemporary artist access to one of the world’s richest collections of paintings is a way of keeping the dialogue going and open for new kinds of engagement.’

Ali Cherri has been selected as the National Gallery’s Artist in Residence for 2021, in partnership with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry.

The National Gallery Artist in Residence is a collaboration with the Contemporary Art Society.

Programme sponsored by Hiscox

For more information, visit nationalgallery.org.uk

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About Ali Cherri

Ali Cherri (b.1976) is a visual artist based in Beirut and Paris. His recent exhibitions include Phantom Limb at Jameel Arts Center Dubai, An Opera For Animals at Parasite, Hong Kong, But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise at Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan and Guggenheim New York, Somniculus at Jeu de Paume, Paris and CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, and Statues Also Die at Museo Egizio, Milan.

His work has been exhibited in several international exhibitions, among them the upcoming Venice Biennale The Milk of Dreams, Venice (2022), Manifesta 13, Marseille (2020); Jameel Arts Center, Dubai (2019); Parasite, Hong Kong (2019); Centre Pompidou – Paris (2017); Lyon Biennial (Sept. 2017); MAXXI, Rome (Nov. 2017); Aichi Triennial, Japan (2016); Guggenheim New York (2016); Sharjah Art Space (2016); MACBA, Spain (2015); Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, Poland (2015); and Gwangju Museum of Art, South Korea (2014).

Cherri is a recipient of the Harvard University’s Robert E. Fulton Fellowship (2016) and the Rockefeller Foundation Award (2017) and was shortlisted for the The Abraaj Group Art Prize (2018.) His films have been shown in International Film Festivals including New Directors/New Films MoMA NY; Cinéma du Réel, Centre Pompidou, Paris; CPH:DOX (winner of NewVision Award 2015), Copenhagen; Dubai International Film Festival, Dubai (winner Best Director, 2013); VideoBrasil, São Paulo (Southern Panorama Award, 2015); Toronto International Film Festival & San Francisco International Film Festival. www.alicherri.com

About the National Gallery Artist in Residence

Over the course of one year, the National Gallery Artist in Residence has access to the unique National Gallery’s on-site Artist’s Studio, the Gallery’s staff and its archives and research resources. The residency includes a publication and the display of work at the National Gallery, which travels to the UK Partner Museum. A work from the residency will then be acquired for the partner museum by the Contemporary Art Society.

The residency replaces the previous Associate Artist scheme. The Artist in Residence is selected by a jury. The Contemporary Art Society’s contribution is generously supported by Anna Yang and Joseph Schull.

The first Artist in Residence was Rosalind Nashashibi, announced in 2019, and whose display ‘Rosalind Nashashibi: An Overflow of Passion and Sentiment’ opened at the Gallery on 2 December 2020.

About the National Gallery’s Modern and Contemporary Programme

For nearly two centuries, the National Gallery’s Collection has provided inspiration to contemporary artists. The National Gallery’s new Modern and Contemporary Programme continues this tradition through exhibitions, displays, commissions, and residencies. 2019 saw the unveiling of Bridget Riley’s monumental wall painting Messengers in the Gallery’s Annenberg Court, as well as the exhibitions Rachel Maclean: The Lion and The Unicorn (29 November 2018 – 3 February 2019) and Sea Star: Sean Scully at the National Gallery (13 April – 11 August 2019.) The first Artist in Residence of the programme was Rosalind Nashashibi, announced in 2019, and whose display Rosalind Nashashibi: An Overflow of Passion and Sentiment opened at the Gallery on 2 December 2020. The first Contemporary Fellowship, awarded to Nalini Malani, and supported by Art Fund, was announced in June 2020.

About the Contemporary Art Society

The Contemporary Art Society champions the collecting of outstanding contemporary art and craft in the UK. Since 1910 the charity has donated thousands of works by living artists to museums, from Picasso, Bacon, Hepworth and Moore in their day, through to the influential artists of our times. Sitting at the heart of cultural life in the UK, the Contemporary Art Society brokers philanthropic support for the benefit of museums and their audiences across the entire country. Their work ensures that the story of art continues to be told now and for future generations. www.contemporaryartsociety.org

About the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum is an award-winning gallery and museum situated in the cultural heart of Coventry. The Herbert has a large and wide-ranging collection including social history, archaeology, natural history and art. There are around 6,000 works in the Herbert’s visual arts collection, the earliest of which is an Elizabethan portrait attributed to Lucas de Heere. British life and landscape feature in canvases by LS Lowry, Stanley Spencer, David Bomberg, Paul Nash and George Shaw. The Gallery collects new and recent art in a variety of media and styles, currently developing a collection of art on the themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation. Temporary exhibition spaces have hosted collections from museums nationally and internationally. Several of the touring exhibition galleries are currently closed for redevelopment in preparation for Coventry UK City of Culture, enabling the gallery to display more works and major exhibitions. Further info: https://www.theherbert.org/about/default.aspx

About the Hiscox Group

Hiscox is a global specialist insurer, headquartered in Bermuda and listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE:HSX). Our ambition is to be a respected specialist insurer with a diverse portfolio by product and geography. We believe that building balance between catastrophe-exposed business and less volatile local specialty business gives us opportunities for profitable growth throughout the insurance cycle. It’s a long-standing strategy which in 2018 saw the business deliver a profit before tax of $137.4 million in a challenging year for insurers.

The Hiscox Group employs over 3,300 people in 14 countries, and has customers worldwide. Through the retail businesses in the UK, Europe, Asia and the US, we offer a range of specialist insurance for professionals and business customers as well as homeowners. Internationally traded, bigger ticket business and reinsurance is underwritten through Hiscox London Market and Hiscox Re & ILS.

Our values define our business, with a focus on people, quality, courage and excellence in execution. We pride ourselves on being true to our word and our award-winning claims service is testament to that. For more information, visit www.hiscoxgroup.com.