Author: Vikki Hill, Project Officer, University of the Arts London

UAL Changing Mindsets Workshops with Grayson Perry at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (UAL) on 14th February 2018

“Transvestism is not the most interesting thing about me” –  Grayson Perry

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

On the 14th February 2018, to mark the completion of the first-year cohort of staff and student workshops at UAL for the HEFCE-Funded Changing Mindsets research intervention, we were delighted to be joined by Turner Prize-winning artist and UAL Chancellor, Grayson Perry. Taking us through a visual tour of global inequality, identity politics and the British class system by way of maps, bikes, pots and rainbows, Grayson illustrated how he responds, through his practice, to stereotype, bias and prejudice.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

Before the audience entered the lecture theatre, Grayson asked me, ‘I wonder what stereotypes you have about me that made you invite me here today?’ I thought of Grayson’s 2014 TV series, Who Are You? and accompanying exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. My students, at that time, were researching portraiture and the visit to the exhibition had sparked conversations about identity and the stereotypes we held about race, faith, gender, sexuality and death. “I hope that I’m going to say the right thing!”, Grayson began, before acknowledging the irony of being a white, successful, middle-aged man talking about his experience of working with stereotypes to a diverse group of 400 or so students and staff.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

Grayson shared the story of Alex from South London who featured in his TV series, Who Are You? What particularly interested Grayson about Alex was that he was born female and through the unfolding of his experiences he revealed the complex construction of identity.

“When he was young, before he could really put into words the feelings he had about his trans-identity, he was obsessed with Peter Pan…. He had looked around the cultural landscape and he was looking for something that was speaking to him about the ambiguous un-verbalised feelings about himself that told him about who he really was.”

During the course of his talk, Grayson challenged notions of individuality in Western culture that perpetuate a sense of self – we are “co-created beings (…) we are just a collection of experiences…”

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

Expanding on stereotypes around gender identity, we explored how gender stereotypes are absorbed. The most common questions posed to pregnant women is ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ Gendering begins before birth. Grayson proposed that the genetic imperative of gender stereotypes takes away responsibility from the individual. In the Changing Mindsets workshops, we have explored gender in relation to implicit bias and the impact that stereotype threat has on our self-perceptions, performance and behaviour.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

Grayson suggested that, “We all depend on stereotypes – most of our behaviour, most of the time, we don’t question it… otherwise we’d go bonkers!!” It’s when our awareness is flagged up that we begin to question our opinions and behaviours. This resonated with feedback from a Changing Mindsets workshops on Implicit Bias when a participant observed that, ‘One of the issues is that some of us are not aware of bias.’

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

Part of the Changing Mindsets research focuses on ‘belonging’ as this has been shown to be a contributing factor to student success and achievement at university (Mountford-Zimdars, et al. 2015). Grayson playfully challenged bias within the creative industries by asking who might be the most prejudiced – conservatives or progressive liberals, highlighting how being locked into a particular political position can stifle creativity.

Grayson’s inhibiting ‘internal stereotype’ draws upon research by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson on stereotype threat. The self-imposed, embodied stereotype of “not for the likes of me (or) people from ‘my’ background” echoes some of the discussions that have taken place in the Changing Mindsets workshops, with both staff and students sharing their own insecurities as a student, a lecturer at university, work and with family.

Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

The Q&A was hosted by Callum Cound and Daphne Toprek, current UAL students at London College of Communication who are part of the Changing Mindsets team, as student ambassadors. Using Twitter hashtag #ualmindsets they chose questions from the audience to pose to Grayson ranging from politics and taboos to Brad Pitt and Essex.

Callum opened with a question about how we can harness fragility to encourage growth before questioning the role that art plays in these conversations. Daphne followed this with a question about art that pushes boundaries through politically incorrect work and then asked if Grayson had plans to explore further current political issues in his ceramics.

Things can be beautiful from any era of art, but what gives them a little bit of spice, sometimes, is that kind of edginess, and I think that can be found in politics and social commentary…
Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

As part of the Changing Mindsets research intervention, both students and staff have been asked to complete pre- and post- workshop online surveys to begin to think about the key themes: mindsets, stereotype threat, implicit bias and belonging. The survey forms an integral part of the quantitative and qualitative research for the project providing a measuring tool to help analyse the impact of the workshops.

One student commented:

Interesting and thought provoking, some of the questions I felt really made me think about something I’d never considered.
Photo credit: Gareth Johnson

In the final section of the workshop, students and staff considered two key questions:

  • What digital platform, format and design could reflect the project themes and meet specific conditions to showcase/ curate graphic design media and fine art work?
  • How might we frame the online showcase to consider key themes of the Changing Mindsets project:

UAL students who attended the Changing Mindsets workshops at Camberwell College of Arts, Central Saint Martins and London College of Communication, have signed up to be part of the editorial board to design and curate an online showcase of art, design and media work to further explore project themes.

References

Mountford-Zimdars, A., Sabri, D., Moore, J., Sanders, J., Jones, S., & Higham, L. (2015). Causes of differences in student outcomes.

 

UAL Changing Mindsets Workshop with Grayson Perry
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