Shami Chakrabarti by Gillian Wearing, 2011 © National Portrait Gallery, London; commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery with the support of J.P. Morgan through the Fund for New Commissions.Today my favourite modern political figure (and heroine) is immortalised in a portrait to go on display in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.
In a commission by British Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of campaign group Liberty, is depicted in a black and white photograph holding a wax mask of herself hanging from a ribbon.
The notion of the ‘mask’ has previously occupied Wearing, but for this commission the idea was initially prompted by Chakrabarti who commented to Wearing that her public persona is mask-like, often interpreted as ‘grim’, ‘worthy’ and ‘strident’.
Chakrabarti first sat for the portrait in September 2010, when she was digitally scanned for the wax mask – preferable to a plaster life-cast as it does not distort features. The mask was carefully sculpted and coloured, and includes glass eyes. Chakrabarti then returned to Gillian’s studio in April 2011 to be photographed with the mask.
A common thread that runs throughout Wearing’s work, some of which is currently exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery, is the disparity between public and private life and between individual and collective experience. This is particularly potent in the portrayal of Chakrabarti, a public figure whose work consistently raises issues relating to privacy and identity.
Shami Chakrabati is on display from 18 - 22 April 2012 in the National Portrait Gallery’s Contemporary Galleries (Room 40). The portrait will then go on display again from Wednesday 27th June.