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Grayson Perry’s mappa ‘selfie’ stirs up Hereford

28 April 2017


Inspiration: Hereford’s Mappa Mundi

Inspiration: Hereford’s Mappa Mundi

THE artist Grayson Perry’s take on mappa mundi has caused a stir among visitors to an exhibition at Hereford Cathedral based on its own example of the medieval world map.

Complaints have been raised about the presence in a church of a work that contains expletives and questions the existence of heaven. Perry’s piece Map of Nowhere is one of eight contemporary works in­-cluded in the “Mapping Inspira-tions” display alongside Hereford’s 14th-century Mappa Mundi.

His work mimics the Mappa’s circular form, but replaces the world with his body. It contains various images and observations, including some four-letter expletives. A house appears labelled as “Oxbridge”, beside a group of abandoned chil­dren; and the National Trust is placed in a section classed as nature, alongside a hosepipe ban. There are also references to internet dating and casino capitalism. The word “Doubt” is at its centre.

The work is on loan from a priv­ate collection, and, as Perry explains in information displayed under­neath the print, it is based on a German version of the mappa, the Ebstorf map, which showed Jesus as the body of the world: “My daughter often accuses me of setting myself up as God; so I made the lakes and rivers into my body.

“People are very wedded to the idea of a neat ending. Our rational brains would love to tidy up the mess of the world and to have either Armageddon or Heaven at the end of our existence. But life doesn’t work like that — it’s a continuum.”

Another of the exhibition’s artists, Andrea McLean, said that it had “already caused some outrage and letters of complaint. One visitor, Stephen Davidson, from Gloucester, told the Hereford Times: “It was a surprise to see something question-ing whether there was a heaven in the cathedral.”

The Cathedral Chancellor, Canon Chris Pullin, said that Hereford’s Mappa included potentially offen­s-ive images, including human canni­bal­ism and animal defecation. “Perry’s response to the Mappa is his own per­­­­­sonal take. . . Displaying his Map of Nowhere is not an en­­dorsement of ideas he seems to ex­­press within it. . . We are free to agree or to disagree with the take on life it expresses, but that’s true of the Mappa Mundi too.”

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