Who are you? Grayson Perry’s identity journeys

The Ashford hijab by Grayson Perry 2014

The Ashford hijab by Grayson Perry 2014

Channel 4 ‘Who are you?‘ series* by/with Turner-Prize Grayson Perry is a fascinating exploration into contemporary portraiture and society, as one alone was not already a big enough challenge! the series follows Perry’s creative journey to the production of portraits that capture individuals (not the usual portrait sitters)  at a time of some kind of identity crisis – linked, for example, to gender transition, religion, fame and loss of status. In some ways, it could be argued that his sitters embody superdiverse Britain or perhaps ‘we’ (yes, I’m associating myself with some kind of British ‘us’, how strange and uninvited!) have always been superdiverse but before the pressure to put people into one-dimensional identity pigeon-holes was stronger, so what is superdiverse now is the eye of the observer. Either way, Grayson Perry is the ideal person to take on the task of telling these identity journeys and he does it with mastery and tremendous insight, successfully conveying the mundane and minute and yet heroic struggles every person goes through – to different degrees and at different times – throughout their life. It is a struggle that not necessarily surface, but it is through it that our own masterpiece, who we are, is forged as something multifaceted, imperfect, and ontologically unfinished, something intimately and uniquely personal and yet collective in many ways.

Members of the Jesus Army sitting for portrait (episode 2)

Members of the Jesus Army sitting for portrait (episode 2)

For Perry this ontological instability is what we are, and in no way a problem. With an unusual degree of perceptivity, this series captures in ‘traditional’ portrait format  a range of  identity struggles and there is no better place to show them than the National Portrait Gallery – the home of the great and good or simply of the ultra-rich and powerful – where the portraits are currently exhibited.

The ‘Earl of Essex’ aka Rylan Clark who came fifth in the talent show the X Factor in 2012 and won Celebrity Big Brother a few weeks later in January 2013 sits among royalties of various sort, the statue of the black transgender boy is among colonial masters and servile slaves, the broken pot of the fallen politicians among the evergreen political elite, the silk hijab portraying the life of a young working class Muslim convert among various pious and wealthy women.

Merging together his British Museum’s celebration of craftsmanship to the Channel 4’s class rugs series, this latest work confirms once again Grayson Perry’s standing in the UK’s art and public landscape. His reflections on identity are never banal. The series is a skillful combination of words, images, photos, body language and nervous laughs that craft a narrative that is unstable, fluid, and honest. The production (the making) and the final products are of stunning beauty as one and in separation. The portrait of the elderly couple coping with Alzheimer and the slow but inexorable loss of identity that it inflicts on the sick person and on the couple as a whole is especially powerful and moving.

*The series was broadcast in October 2014 but I bumped into it on a flight to New York in February 2015. It doesn’t really matter as it is still available on 4 on demand and the art work is still on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London (admission free).

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Migration, social networks and integration: new IRiS Working Papers out

Two new IRiS Working Papers (no. 6 and 7) exploring issues related migration, social networks and integration policy and practice are out today. Using a wide range of literature, Dr Marta Kindler and colleagues (IRiS WP no. 6) focus upon the ways in which social networks and social capital have been found to promote or hinder integration of third country nationals into their local neighbourhood and communities across the European Union. In IRiS WP no. 7, Professor Gary Craig  addresses the issue of whether integration works, summarising the factors most significant in promoting integration and argues that a narrow focus on the economic aspects of integration and the continuing racism experienced by migrants are key barriers to effective integration.

IRiS Working Paper Series is edited by Dr Nando Sigona and Dr Aleksandra Kazlowska. They are available on IRiS Website: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/superdiversity-institute/publications/working-paper-series.aspx

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Winter journeys a new migration scenario?

Ezadeen Cargo ship, 2015

Ezadeen Cargo ship, 2015

The rescue of hundreds of migrants on Ezadeen and Blue Sky cargo ships in the last few days has captured media attention especially for the size of the vessels involved – no longer old fishing boats but freighters up to 100m long – and smugglers’ tactic of leaving the boat unmanned in open sea. The boats have immediately set off alarm bells as the new arrivals have been taken as evidence of a change of scale of ‘human smuggling inc’ in the Mediterranean. A part for the size of the ships and the tactics, two additional elements seem to confirm this change: firstly, the emergence of a new route from Turkey – a sign, on the one hand, that the political situation in Libya has become far to dangerous and unstable even for smugglers, on the other, that Turkey may be less keen in combatting unauthorised migration for the EU in retaliation for EU’s criticism of president Erdogan; secondly, the time of arrival. Boat migration is traditionally a seasonal phenomenon, with the summer months seeing by far more irregular crossings than the rest of the year. Since last September, data from FRONTEX show significant arrivals also in the winter months with over 11,000 since 1 November alone. While the use of larger vessels can be partly a response to weather conditions in the winter, it is also an indication of smugglers’ economic power and infrastructure, and their responsiveness to changing geopolitical conditions.

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Nomadi o “Figli del ghetto”? Ebook gratuito

Copertina di Figli del ghetto. Gli italiani, i campi nomadi e l'invenzione degli zingari, 2002

Copertina di Figli del ghetto. Gli italiani, i campi nomadi e l’invenzione degli zingari, 2002

Nonluoghi, l’editore del mio libro uscito nel 2002, ha recentemente messo online l’ebook di Figli del Ghetto in vari formati che sono scaricabili gratuitamente a questo indirizzo. Lo scandalo romano ‘Mafia Capitale’ ha portato alla ribalta in maniera forte le politiche pubbliche per rom e sinti e soprattutto riaccesso il dibattito sui cosidetti ‘campi nomadi’, che a Roma presentano le fattezze di campi di internamento di triste e non distante memoria. Telecamere, muri e filo spinato, controlli in uscita ed entrata e isolamento, rendono questi campi strutture di mero contenimento in condizioni di decenza, talvolta neanche questa. Sono luoghi dove guardiani e para-assistenti sociali (spesso sottopagati) del mondo di fuori fungono da palliativi, meri ingranaggi di un sistema piu’ grande di loro che rendono appena piu’ tollerabile.

Molti questi temi li trovate piu’ o meno sviluppati in questo saggio di dodici anni fa. Buona lettura!

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