Contemporary artists respond to Mappa Mundi

The Hereford Mappa Mundi invites a response from everyone who views it, and each person brings to it their own experiences, memories, associations and interpretations.

The current special exhibition within the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition is an exhibition of contemporary art, involving five established artists and fourteen degree students from Hereford College of Arts, all of whom have responded to Mappa Mundi in wonderfully varied and imaginative ways. The exhibition brings their work together to inspire visitors to consider the map’s meaning and artistry more deeply.

The best known artist is Grayson Perry, who has become an establishment figure (RA 2012, CBE 2013, BBC Reith Lecturer 2013, Trustee of the British Museum 2015) despite the fact that his work is often deeply subversive, parodying modern society and its mores with witty cynicism, heavy with historical references. Several of Perry’s works make reference to the world of the medieval mappa mundi, the most significant of them being his huge autobiographical etching, Map of Nowhere (2008), which is displayed opposite Mappa Mundi itself. It is a self-portrait which encompasses and categorises all the things that modern life throws at a person, in a similar way to how Mappa Mundi presents a huge variety of information drawn from much older sources. Map of Nowhere is indebted both to the Hereford Mappa Mundi (see the podcast from BBC4’s The Beauty of Maps) and the Ebstorf World Map

Andrea McLean, who lives and works in Ledbury, was artist-in-residence at the cathedral in 2005, when she created a work which now hangs close to the entrance of the Map Room in the British Library. Her art is imbued with references to Mappa Mundi and she has created two new pieces especially for this exhibition which are wonderfully colourful and intricate. With them are two of her notebooks which are themselves beautiful works of art.

Genevieve Belgard started her artistic career as a designer for the theatre and theatricality is evident in her three-dimensional mixed-media diorama, which presents members of the monstrous races as if refugees, detained and shunned as outsiders. They are flanked by mandrakes who are resisting attempts to restrain them with threads and pins.

Charlie Calder-Potts is an intrepid traveller inspired especially by the art and poetry of the Middle East. She was one of the official British war artists in Afghanistan. Her work is exquisitely detailed and her autobiographical Mappa Aevum, mixed media (including gold leaf) on vellum, has almost as many images and references on it as Mappa Mundi. Alongside it are two works resulting from her recent British Council project working in Iran with the poet Rosa Jamali.

Ewan David Eason is well known for his pioneering technique of printing on to gold leaf, which features in many of his works. His ‘Mappa Mundi’ series of prints takes city maps and removes all the text, creating an abstract image. We are fortunate to have been loaned his prints of Jerusalem and of London, the latter centered on the spot where he proposed to his wife.

The student works resulted from modules within the 2nd-year BA (Hons) degree in artist blacksmithing, contemporary design crafts or jewellery design. Mappa Mundi was taken as the starting point for individual journeys of discovery: the results are extraordinarily diverse and astound with their creativity.

This special exhibition is on display within the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library Exhibition from 10 April to 15 July 2017, 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday  (last admission 4.30 pm). Normal admission charges apply.