16 March – 12 June 2022
Location: Rooms 57, 58 and 59
Ali Cherri, our Artist in Residence, presented work that considered how histories of trauma can be explored through a response to museum and gallery collections. This exhibition, 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?' 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 uncovered accounts of five 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 presented 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 strange objects, Cherri reminds us that we are never truly the same after experiencing violence.
Assembled in five old-fashioned 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, who will acquire a work from the Residency for the National Gallery’s project partner, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry
The National Gallery Modern & Contemporary Programme is supported by
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Ali Cherri, the 2021 National Gallery Artist in Residence, tells us about his exhibition, 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?', in Rooms 57, 58 and 59.