National Portrait Gallery Presents New Portrait of Shami Chakrabarti by Gillian Wearing

A new portrait of Shami Chakrabarti, Director of campaign group Liberty, has gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery. The photographic portrait is a commission and the first work by British artist Gillian Wearing to enter the Gallery’s Collection.

Shami Chakrabarti by Gillian Wearing, 2011. National Portrait Gallery

The black and white portrait was taken with a large-format camera and shows Chakrabarti 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. The medium, clarity and composition of this image is reminiscent of the studio portraits of photographer August Sander (1876-1964), whose work has always interested Wearing. Thematically, it makes links to works in the Gallery’s historic Collection that employ masks, including portraits of the actors’ Sarah Siddons by Sir William Beechey and David Garrick by Johann Zoffany. Wearing’s work is an example of a mask portrait which explores a contemporary sitter’s shifting sense of self. It is particularly potent in the portrayal of Chakrabarti, a public figure whose work often raises issues relating to privacy and identity.

Born in London, of Indian heritage, Chakrabarti trained as a barrister and was called to the bar in 1994. She worked as a lawyer at the Home Office for Conservative and Labour governments (1996-2001) before joining Liberty as in-house counsel in 2001 and became Director in 2003. Chakrabarti has written, spoken and broadcast on the importance of the post-World War Two human rights framework as an essential component of democratic society, which includes spearheading specific campaigns on issues such as detention without charge, stop-and-search, and ID cards. She is Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, a Governor of the London School of Economics and a Master of the Bench of Middle Temple.

Turner Prize-winning artist Wearing uses photography and video to explore the disparities between public and private life and between individual and collective experience. Her works include the photographic series, Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992-3) made shortly after her graduation from Goldsmiths College, Sixty Minutes Silence (1996), Family History (2006), and a series of photographic self-portraits showing the artist in the guise of members of her family and also other artists, by painstakingly recreating existing photographs using masks and sets. Her work is currently the subject of a major exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery until 17 June 2012

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, says: ‘Gillian Wearing is one of the most important artists in modern Britain with an insight that celebrates the extraordinary in the ordinariness of our lives and aspirations. It is wonderful that her work will be represented in the National Portrait Gallery and it was a pleasure and honour to sit for her.’

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery says, ‘Gillian Wearing’s double image of Shami Chakrabarti is a powerful portrait of a woman who is making an exceptional contribution to civil liberties and human rights. This newly commissioned portrait is the latest to be supported by J.P. Morgan, and demonstrates their commitment to creativity and the arts.’

Carol Lake, Head of EMEA Philanthropy and Sponsorship says: ‘J.P. Morgan is delighted to support the National Portrait Gallery’s Fund for New Commissions. Great people and great art encourage important discussion and debate. This portrait of Shami Chakrabarti by Gillian Wearing is an excellent addition to the collection with which we are proud to be associated.

The portrait was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery’s Trustees with support from J.P. Morgan through the Fund for New Commissions.

Shami Chakrabati is on display from 18 April 2012 until 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.

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE opening hours: Saturday-Wednesday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Fridays:10am – 9pm (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Recorded information: 020 7312 2463 General information: 020 7306 0055 Website:

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