Skip to main content


New Work by Ali Cherri Acquired for Herbert


A work in the National Gallery’s current exhibition If you prick us, do we not bleed? by the Gallery’s 2021 Artist in Residence Ali Cherri, has been acquired by the Contemporary Art Society for the programme’s partner venue the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry.

The announcement follows the Lebanese‐born artist’s recent award of the Silver Lion for Promising Young Participant at the 2022 Venice Biennale. As part of the National Gallery’s Artist in Residence programme, the Contemporary Art Society acquires a work from the resulting exhibition for the  permanent collection of a partner museum.

The Madonna of the Cat, after Barocci, 2022 is from a group of works created by Ali Cherri for his residency and exhibition at the National Gallery which responds to paintings in the Gallery’s collection that were vandalised (in this case Barocci’s Madonna of the Cat, c1575.)

The bird in this cabinet references the goldfinch clutched by the young John the Baptist in the painting by Barocci that wasattacked in 1990. According to legend, the goldfinch received the bright red markings around its beak from a drop of blood that fell from Jesus Christ as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. Here, the bird lays beneath a porcelain cast of a sculpted hand.

This work was chosen by the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry for the connections that can  be made with it to sculpture and other objects in their collection including their extensive natural sciences collections. The religious iconography of the goldfinch was considered particularly fitting with  nearby Coventry Cathedral.  

The Madonna of the Cat, after Barocci, 2022 is part of an exhibition of new work by Cherri that considers how histories of trauma can be explored through a response to museum and gallery collections. Following their showing at the National Gallery (until 12 June) the works will be displayed at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum later this year.  

The exhibition If you prick us, do we not bleed? started with research in the Gallery’s archive, from which Cherri uncovered accounts of five National Gallery paintings* that were vandalised while on display. He was struck by the public’s highly emotional response to these attacks, finding that newspaper articles would describe the damages as if they were wounds inflicted on a living being – even referring to the Gallery’s conservators as surgeons.

He also noticed an overwhelming urge to ‘heal’, make good and hide the damage. This personification of artworks, and the suggestion that they can experience distress, is reflected in the exhibition’s title, taken from Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice.

In response, Cherri presents a series of mixed media, sculptural installations that recall aspects of eachpainting and that imagine its life following the vandalism. They bring into question what Cherri calls the ‘politics of visibility’; the decisions we make about how, and to what extent, we accept trauma within museums. By translating each damaged work into a series of objects, Cherri reminds us that we are never truly the same after experiencing violence.

The 2021 National Gallery Artist in Residence is a collaboration with the Contemporary Art Society, generously supported by Anna Yang and Joseph Schull.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, London, says: ‘One of the most pleasing outcomes of the collaboration between the National Gallery and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, is the purchase of Ali Cherri’s The Madonna of the Cat, after Barocci, 2022, for the Herbert’s permanent collection. Made during his residency in Trafalgar Square, this is a touching, melancholic work that speaks of the of the fragility of human beings while alluding to a beautiful Gallery painting that was itself once the object of a physical attack.’ 

Caroline Douglas, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, says: ’We are delighted to see this eloquent and conceptually rich work by Ali Cherri enter the permanent collection at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. The legacy of the residency at the National Gallery lies also in the powerful new connections for Coventry, across history and geographies. It has been a great pleasure to work with Ali Cherri at this pivotal moment in his career.’ 

Martin Roberts, Collections Manager of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, says: ‘We have enjoyed working with Ali Cherri throughout the National Gallery’s Artist in Residence programme and are very thankful to the Contemporary Art Society for their kind support in acquiring The Madonna of the Cat, after Barocci, 2022for our permanent collection. The work will add a new and contemporary perspective into our visual arts collection centred on Peace and Reconciliation, and we look forward to welcoming visitors to enjoy the work.’

Ali Cherri, a Beirut‐born artist (b. 1976) whose work is inspired by artefacts and the natural world, is the National Gallery’s second Artist in Residence to be chosen since the launch of the Gallery’s Modern and Contemporary Programme, following the first appointment of Rosalind Nashashibi in 2019.

Born in Lebanon and based in Beirut and Paris, Cherri uses sculpture, film and installation to pursue the meaning of the built environment and its histories. Often using archaeological relics and sites as a starting point, Cherri’s varied practice explores the processes of excavation, relocation and the museum classificationof objects, animal artefacts, images, and their narratives.

Interested in the aesthetics, practices and politics that are associated with classifications and collecting, Cherri was invited to respond to the National Gallery and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum to display new work in their spaces.

Cherri, who began his residency in April 2021, has worked in the National Gallery’s on‐site artist’s studio, benefiting from the close proximity to its collection, research and archives.

Ali Cherri was selected as the National Gallery’s Artist in Residence for 2021, in partnership with the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry.


The National Gallery Artist in Residence is a collaboration with the Contemporary Art Society.

Programme sponsored by Hiscox