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Nobel Prize Awarded To An Apologist For Violent Nationalism; Critics Alarmed On Nobel Prize Given To Peter Handke; Peter Frankopan, Professor Of Global History, Oxford University, And Malte Herwig, Peter Handke Biographer, Are Interviewed About Peter Handke; The Journey From Fringes Of The Art World To Mayfair; Grayson Perry, Artist, Is Interviewed About His Journey Through The Art World; Super Rich Interior Decoration; Rhiannon Giddens' New Album "There Is No Other". Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 18, 2019 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
Backlash continues against this year's Nobel winner for literature. Peter Handke, the Australian playwright and novelist is accused of being an
apologist for violent nationalism. I speak to his biographer, Malte Herwig, and to Europe historian, Peter Frankopan, about why this argument
matters especially today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAYSON PERRY, ARTIST: An artist's job is to bite the hand that feeds him but not too hard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Contemporary artist, Grayson Perry, on his journey from provocateur to national treasure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RHIANNON GIDDENS, MUSICIAN AND MUSIC SCHOLAR: I'm watching from my window, the curtain coming down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Our Walter Isaacson talks to Rhiannon Giddens, the Grammy award winning roots musician who turns her banjo into a time machine.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The eternal Brexit rollercoaster returns to Parliament this weekend. Boris Johnson will see whether he has the votes to pass the deal that he has just
reached with the E.U. and a special session on Saturday. The main stumbling block, as always, is the thorny issue of the Irish border and
fear that the fragile peace between Ireland and the United Kingdom could be shattered by the re-imposition of border controls there.
That's a literally a deal breaker for the E.U. whose mission to uphold peace on the historically bloody continent. If the European experiment
feels particularly fragile now, that feeling could be traced back to the Balkans 1990s where Europe saw the first outbreak of violent nationalism
since World War II, which is why critics were so alarmed when this year's Nobel Prize in Literature was given to Austrian novelist and playwright,
Handke is accused of being an apologist for the Serbian project of Sloberdam Milosevic, whose henchmen in Bosnia conducted a campaign of
ethnic cleaning and genocide. To grapple with the Nobel committee's controversial selection at this fragile time in Europe, I spoke to a
Handke's biographer, Malte Herwig, and Peter Frankopan, professor of global history at Oxford University.
Peter Frankopan, Malte Herwig, welcome to the program.
So, because we're talking about this Nobel Prize being awarded to a guy who has been accused of being an apologist for violent nationalism and a
genocidal program of Sloberdam Milosevic who is known as the Butcher of the Balkans, just remind us, remind our viewers I guess the significance of the
Balkan wars happening in Europe when they did.
PETER FRANKOPAN, PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL HISTORY, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: Well, in 1989, this time, 30 years, the Berlin Wall came down. And at that point,
nobody could predict what would happen next. There was an assumption amongst many military strategists the Soviet Union would send in the tanks
or that states would put down their own populations heavily.
And the only place that that really happened was in using Yugoslavia where the leadership in Belgrade decided to try to keep the country together,
that led to a war from more or less from 1991 until the date in peace agreements in '95. And that was a period of profound suffering.
And again, you saw it with your eyes of the kind of -- the murders that happened on a -- in some cases, a mechanized basis in Srebrenica and
Gorazde but also, the suffering in places like Sarajevo, that saw the way in which human under the wrong circumstances and the wrong times are
capable of inflicting profound violence on each other.
And Milosevic was the leader of that process of trying to use force to achieve his own ends. And that process that took up most of the '90s saw
bloodshed in the tens of thousands, not just on the doorstep of Europe but in Europe itself.
And so, it is quite salutary to be reminded of the fact that no one has a monopoly on being peaceful and that the wrong decisions can escalade very,
AMANPOUR: And Malte, I mean, I know that you're the biographer -- amongst other books, you're the biographer of Peter Handke who has won the Nobel
Prize in Literature. And he, as I said, has been accused of being an apologist for precisely this kind of violent nationalism that we're talking
about that I covered, that my colleagues did throughout the '90s. And it was the first such eruption of this in Europe since the end of World War
What are your thoughts on him winning the Nobel Prize, firstly?
MALTE HERWIG, PETER HANDKE BIOGRAPHER: Well, I think it says a lot about the quality of public debate in our time when people make it out to be a
stark partisan choice, you know. You're either against him or for him.
People either want to hear a worship or totally vilify them. What is interesting is that the loudest champions of truths and facts don't seem to
have a problem [13:05:00] with ignoring or bending the facts themselves in order to cast Handke as an amoral monster and apologist for genocide, which
Now, as his biographer, I can tell you Peter Handke has lots of flaws and has made many mistakes and I write about them liberally in the biography.
But I think we should take him to task on those and not on what he has supposed to have said already.
AMANPOUR: He's basically said, and as you know, he spoke at the funeral of Sloberdam Milosevic and a lot of people just can't believe that a guy who
did that, you know, was awarded the Nobel Prize, calling him a tragic man.
He accused -- and I remember this because it was going on at the time, he accused Bosnians in Sarajevo of staging massacres during the war. That was
a trope that was put forward Milosevic and his henchmen in Bosnia. And he also alleged that Serbs unfairly received too much of the blame.
And as you know and as we all know in retrospect, that blame was justified because it was backed by ironclad evidence at the war crimes for tribunals
in the Hague. Milosevic obviously died before he was convicted but he was accused of heinous crimes and many of his henchmen were convicted of
genocidal crimes against humanity.
HERWIG: The points you're making are absolutely correct and he said those things during, what I call, the fog of war and he was wrong. I think Peter
Handke is guilty of allowing himself to be instrumentalized by Serb nationalists.
So, when Handke spoke at the Milosevic's funeral, many people say you (INAUDIBLE) Milosevic, he worshipped him or something like that. Now, it
wasn't anything like that. He said he was going to use weak words today and to be there as a witness.
AMANPOUR: So, Handke and at the awarding of this Nobel, there's very few people who have praised him for it. And the most prominent, in fact, are
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the meaning of it then to you, sir?
PETER HANDKE, AUTHOR AND NOBEL LAUREATE: Yes. It's the kind of -- I feel a strange kind of freedom. I don't know. Well, freedom and it's -- if I
were, which is not the truth, as if I were innocent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What do you think he's saying there? It's a little weird, "As if I were innocent, which is not the truth."
HERWIG: Handke, I think, was born guilty in his view. So, in a way us condemning him, almost can't --
AMANPOUR: He was born guilty?
HERWIG: He was born guilty in a way.
AMANPOUR: What does that mean?
HERWIG: You can see that -- a feeling of guilt, sort of existential guilt almost from, you know, his teenage years on. And Handke is the poet self-
doubt and self-exploration. He constantly questions himself.
In fact, if you look at the text of his speech, his very short speech at Milosevic's funeral, he questions himself there. He says, I don't know the
truth, and he constantly says that.
AMANPOUR: Is that a good enough exploration for you, Peter Frankopan?
FRANKOPAN: Well, I think the idea of a truth is elastic is in itself quite interesting in these so-called post-truth times. And I think we have to be
very careful. You know, we believe in the West in the sanctity of free speech and I think we have to detach the fact that that means that
sometimes people are going to have views that we don't like.
To pick the particular moment, it seems to me, either intentionally provocative. It doesn't mean that Handke doesn't deserve his writings.
But at the same time, I'm very surprised that having suggested this was a time to look more broadly at the world, that we picked somebody who is
lucid in Europe the last 30, 40, 50 years, the collapse of Yugoslavia, the views about Milosevic who didn't just murder people outside Serbia, you
know, he established a police state that turned into plutocracy and, you know, still undergoing fundamental reforms.
This does send a particular message where when a writer and a scholar like he appears in certain state media saying, I'm innocent, he's also saying
all Serbs are innocent. And historians were very careful about how those lessons are taught, particularly in Germany where I've been just today.
So, there how we understand how he confront the past means facing up to these truths and not allowing people to say that I don't know what truth
AMANPOUR: I just want to read to you what Jennifer Egan who is the Pulitzer Prize winning award, multi award winning American novelist and
currently the head of PEN in the United States. "We reject the decision that a writer who is persistently called into question thoroughly
documented war crimes deserves to be celebrated for his linguistic ingenuity," which was in the citation.
"At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better
than this. We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature's choice."
And you know, Salman Rushdie has once called him, you know, international moron of the year.
And he called him -- you know, called him out for "a series of impassioned apologies for the genocidal regime of Sloberdam Milosevic.
So, again, I know that you're sort of qualifying Peter Handke's work and what he said and what he didn't say and whether he was -- but do you think
that it was right to award him this prize at this time or at any time, frankly?
HERWIG: I think it is actually right precisely because he is challenging problematic, because that's something we lose sight of all too easy
nowadays. I think nowadays we hand out prizes mainly in order to celebrate our self and to confirm ourselves in our moral superiority. And I think
that's wrong because it's intellectually lazy and dishonest. I think it's much more insightful to engage with someone who actually challenges us,
sometimes in unpleasant ways.
Art Papster (ph), last bastion of free thinking. Because let's look at the Nobel Prize record for the Nobel Prize in Literature. So, in the years
before the first World War, the Nobel committee took this idealist direction very seriously. Did they give a prize to Emile Zola, you know, a
famous writer? No. He was much too dispirited and grossly cynical. Did they give a prize to Tolstoy? No, because Tolstoy believed that chance
events could change world history, born peace and so on, you know.
If you were an atheist, no, you wouldn't qualify for the prize. You had to basically confirm to a very romantic conservative reactionary idea of
harmony. So, instead, who got the prize, Sulip Kudon (ph), Bianstana Bionson (ph), third raters who no one knows anything.
FRANKOPAN: Handke he calls the abolition of the Nobel Prize, right? And so, he could have turned it down if it really meant nothing to him.
There's no obligation to accept this great honor. And I think that making an award like this right now would seem to reheat some of those passions
that are still very alive in the Balkans, as you know. The traumas of the war have not been fully dealt with. The war crimes tribunals not --
(INAUDIBLE) in some cases being completed.
And these are still live issues that require a very careful touch of working out how to build and breathe peace back into the Balkans, to
celebrate someone who had said these things, who has stood by Milosevic's grave and said, I don't know what the truth is, and to then say he's
innocent. That shows our moral corruption. That shows how low we've come in Europe that these things don't have meaning. Anyone could say whatever
they like and there's no consequences for that because these are just words and who knows that truth even means.
So, that reduction down where we clash between freedoms of speech and allowing people to have views that we don't like and, in some cases,
distasteful. But on the other hand, how do we prioritize those over trying to build safe communities.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you then because actually this is a big one. I mean, the violation of international norms and the gross violation of
international humanitarian law was codified in international law after the Second World War. That's why we have this notion of crimes against
humanity, war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing.
So, I guess my question is, is there a crime and a sympathy with a crime or an acknowledgment that perhaps the perpetrator of that crime had a point,
is that one step too far? I mean, should there be a red line for something in the field as serious as genocide, not just something you disagree with
what a writer might have said in his political life, but something on this level?
HERWIG: This is a crucial point because Handke can never condone or justified or simplified with the crime committed by Serbs. What he did, he
pointed out that Serbs were also victims.
Now, he is surely guilty of the sin of comparison and --
AMANPOUR: The sin of relativism because they weren't also victims as much as the Bosnians and the others were.
HERWIG: Well, but that's exactly the point. I mean, the international tribunal --
AMANPOUR: I mean, 8,000 --
HERWIG: -- that not just convict Serbs --
HERWIG: -- but, of course, the Serbs were the main perpetrators.
AMANPOUR: Correct, correct.
HERWIG: Milosevic was responsible --
AMANPOUR: Absolutely. And --
HERWIG: -- mainly for the --
AMANPOUR: -- that's the point. Isn't that point? 8,000 Muslim boys and men were slaughtered in Srebrenica. This is what the spokesman for the
mothers of Srebrenica said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUNIRA SUBASIC, PRESIDENT, MOTHERS OF SREBRENICA ASSOCIATION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Awards used to be given to those who were standing for peace,
for those that were of benefit to mankind in the world. This award, however, has shocked us and it is hurting us and it has brought us back to
1995. I don't know what kind of message this sends to our grandchildren. I simply don't have an answer to this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, again, we're talking about the most heinous crimes under international law. And the crimes that were meant to remember and not
repeat because of what happened in our modern history and that's Nazism and because of what then lead to Europe as a project for peace amongst others.
HERWIG: I have to clarify at this point because when we talk about [13:15:00] the Srebrenica massacre, Handke called massacre in Srebrenica
the worst crime against humanity in Europe since 1945.
AMANPOUR: But he also said --
HERWIG: So, he's absolutely --
AMANPOUR: -- the Bosnians in Sarajevo staged their own massacre. In other words, killed themselves.
HERWIG: Sure. But this is about Srebrenica.
HERWIG: I want to just clarify this --
AMANPOUR: All right.
HERWIG: -- particular point because that's how we need to start. We can, you know, criticize him for what he got wrong. He also got the killings in
Visegrad wrong by the way, absolutely. So, take him to task for that but not as apologist of genocide and mass massacres like in Srebrenica.
FRANKOPAN: But he was at the funeral of Milosevic. He didn't have to go to that. He chose and wanted to make a statement --
FRANKOPAN: -- of solidarity with the Serbs, with Milosevic. He could have done it in all sorts of different ways but it's such an aggressive
statement to say that he wants to be there when this man is buried, is put into the ground. And I don't know what the tribunal would have ruled with
Milosevic. They never got that far. But I think anybody who spent time in the Balkans in the '90s had no illusions about what it was that --
HERWIG: Sure. He would have been found guilty.
FRANKOPAN: -- Milosevic had done.
FRANKOPAN: And so, to make that statement and to say, I'm only doing it to be an observer, seems to me quite a fancy way of dancing around reality.
HERWIG: Call it naive, but something you said before that Hanke calls into question --
FRANKOPAN: But would you tell the mother from Srebrenica that she's naive? I don't call it naive. I think one has to figure out --
HERWIG: No. Calling Handke naive.
FRANKOPAN: But you can call him naive and excuse it but I think one has to make a decision. The only decision I think you can justify with Handke is
to say we live in a world of freedom of speech and that entitles people to have use that repugnant.
And separately and secondly, the quality of a man or woman's work is separate from their characteristic as a human being. And those are the
only ways in which you can go on this, right, rather than saying, well, it's all a bit complicated and it was naive because he's difficult. I
think it's one or the other.
AMANPOUR: Would you agree with that? Would you conceive that?
HERWIG: I don't think the world is black and white. I would say he was naive. He allowed himself to be instrumentalized by Serbs. He certainly
completely overshot the mark in his attempt to take on the language of war, to look in the direction where no one else was looking, for good reason.
You know, I give you that.
So, I'm not his --
AMANPOUR: The thing, other people were looking in those areas. I mean, we even had Harold Pinter who was roundly criticized for his seeming sympathy
towards Sloberdam Milosevic.
Let me read something from another highly awarded writer, Hari Kunzru, who -- he has taught Peter Handke's work to his students. He is currently a
professor at Columbia in New York. "More than ever, we need public intellectuals who are able to make a robust defense of human rights in the
face of the indifference and cynicism of our political leaders. Handke is not such person." Again, he teaches Handke and he obviously objects to
But let's bring it back to the historic moment that we face right now, which is a dangerously post truth world, a dangerously nationalistic and
populist world and the fact that however we read it, Northern Ireland is the main sticking point with Brexit because people don't want to see yet
another European peace project disrupted.
FRANKOPAN: So, it's not just about Northern Ireland. So, all across Europe right now, this week we've had major problems in Catalonia where
apart from police being on the street, we have leaders of the Catalonia movement on trial of first edition. We see support for the European Union
collapsing across many countries, not just in the U.K.
You know, the surveys in the summer had 58 percent of the French not believing in the E.U. will last for another 10 years. And in fact, in
Germany, Pew Research Center report says that 40 percent of Germans don't believe that the democratic system is ideal way to run a country.
And so, we've got all sorts of challenges here in Europe. It's not just about nationalism, it's about profound dissatisfaction. And when you have
dissatisfaction, particularly we don't understand where it comes from, it's inequality, economic, social, all the figures and movement that are up for
grabs now, then it gives a perfect platform for ideologs with snappy slogans to come who explain things in a simplistic way. And that's where
we find the rise of the half left and also the hard right in almost every single country in Europe right now.
There's no centrist leader almost anywhere in Europe that learn the U.S. who is able to keep the show on the road and the demand is for this
pressure from the left and right. And again, as we saw in Yugoslavia, when those ignite and people are being overwhelmed into knee jerk reactions,
then there could be real traumas and tragedies that results.
AMANPOUR: It's really a fascinating discussion. Thank you both very much indeed. Peter Frankopan and Malte Herwig, thanks for joining me.
HERWIG: Thank you for having me.
FRANKOPAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And even the harshest critics of Peter Handke's politics acknowledge that he is a brilliant writer, which brings me to another
artist who has faced his own fair share of critical barbs, Grayson Perry.
He is a London based contemporary sculptor, carpet weaver, printmaker and ceramicist.
And his work challenges the fashions and the foibles of the world's collector class. His public experiments in gender identity challenge our
own innate prejudices. Perry has a new exhibit on view called "With Characteristic Self-Deprecation, Super Rich Interior Decoration."
When I spoke with him at the gallery here in London, I asked him about his journey from the fringes of the art world to Mayfair, the stomping grounds
of the British upper middle class.
Grayson Perry, welcome back to our program.
GRAYSON PERRY, ARTIST: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: I just want to point out to you that you are now being referred to as a national treasure.
AMANPOUR: How does that feel after being the outsider for all your career?
PERRY: I kind of -- I think I missed something out in the middle. I'll take it, you know, because it does reflect my sort of philosophy into art
in a way and that I think the outsider stance, you can wear it out a bit much, you know, especially when you have a successful career.
And I'm a member of the Royal Academy and I've gone from the queen, you know, all this sort of thing. I can't pretend that I'm an outsider
AMANPOUR: What's your gong again?
PERRY: I got a CBE.
AMANPOUR: Excellent. Well, listen, you say the Royal Academy and in a way an experience there, I believe, led to this exhibition or at least the
naming of this exhibition. Because you recount that you were there for a particular event and one of your members said this is very decorative.
PERRY: Yes. He called it -- like he said, I see what you've done. Interior decoration. And I though, yes. I said, that's what we all do as
artists. Super rich interior decoration.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's really interesting because that idea of interior design is sort of meant as a put down, right?
AMANPOUR: But you decided to throw it back into his face. And in fact, you have named this "Super Rich Interior Decoration."
PERRY: Yes. I mean, this is my first commercial show in quite a long time and I like this gallery that Victoria Miro has it made because it's small
and I make small work. And so, I thought I would make a work that sort of played on the fact I'm in the richest part of London. They're going to be
sold to private individuals, you know.
And so, I wanted to kind of acknowledge and also play with that. You know, I wanted to point out the hypocrisies and perhaps unacceptable behavior of
the super-rich but also say your part of the conversation, you know, we depend on you in the art world. The money, not just in -- for private
individuals like myself but the institutions depend on the, you know, magnificence --
PERRY: Munificence, that's right. Of the super-rich.
AMANPOUR: They also have, in some cases, some major issues like OxyContin by the Sackler family. And yet, some museums have pulled that sponsorship
but others are beginning to say, hang on a second. We actually need the money. Why don't we just --
AMANPOUR: -- make them pay for their "sins." What is your view on that?
PERRY: I think it's a complex issue because, you know, galleries they're being starved of money by the public purse because of austerity, you know,
and that's not exactly high on their list of priorities. And so, they're having to funds from somewhere.
And if you dig down in a lot of money, really, you know, you take gallery, clues in the title. You know, Tape (ph) was a sugar company. Where do you
think they got the sugar from? Who do you think cut the sugar cane? You know, it's all there.
And so, there is -- there's some sort of delicate maneuvering and diplomacy to be done. But then, you know, the galleries, they are for the public
good too, you know. And often usually they're free in Britain and most of the big of the most museums that accept this kind of sponsorship, they're
free. And so, you know, what's the alternative?
AMANPOUR: But also, I find you yourself throughout your career and exactly what I've been reading about some of your works, you also embody a lot of
contradictions because you're not just a decorative artist, you are not just an artist, you operate in a political context.
And let's talk one of the major, major pieces here, which is really quite moving. It's beautiful, as well. The one with the homeless figure. Tell
me the story of this carpet. How do you conceive it?
PERRY: How it works, I think, really is that it's a very seductive object. It's this lovely king of ice creamy colors, it's very patterny, it has a
kind of vaguely sort of traditional carpet vibe going on it.
PERRY: And yet, you've got this homeless person. Of course, the idea -- you know, the central idea is -- and it hovers in the air, even if it never
happens is someone is going to walk in a homeless person, you know, and it's called don't look down. So, it's almost like an acknowledgment of
that glass floor that the wealthy have put below them because they are scared of ending up like this and they're scared of their children ending
up like this. And so, they ringfenced their privilege in various subtle and not so subtle ways.
AMANPOUR: But people give them a wide berth --
AMANPOUR: -- when you look at them on the pavement.
PERRY: Yes. And I think that's interesting, in a carpet, you might give a wide berth to. I mean, this -- for me, this is the best piece in the show
because it has so many kinds of subtexts going on in it and it's difficult, you know, and it works [13:25:00]. You know, it exemplified the nature of
my work and that is this seductive and decorative and you think why really covetable. I want that. And yet, it also repulses. And I think it makes
you think. And I think that is what my entire career was been about in many ways.
AMANPOUR: And they don't mind it rubbed in their face? Because that's what you're doing.
PERRY: No. Because they know it's true. That it might be uncomfortable and I'm sure all the people -- you know, the very wealthy people that buy
my art, I'm sure they would describe themselves on their CVs as philanthropists.
AMANPOUR: OK. I want to know who buys this and then I want to know what this person does.
PERRY: I am fascinated --
AMANPOUR: Yes. I want to know. So, this, I think you're satirizing the idea of making Ming vases into table lamps.
PERRY: Well, it's one of the great sacrileges of kind of interior design history was that, you know, in the past interior designers would turn
lovely old antique vases into table lamps. Yes. And it was a terrible front, if you like, to the (INAUDIBLE) all of my inspiration comes from
AMANPOUR: What are you saying about rich people in their money in here?
PERRY: Well, I think there's often, you know, a kind of hypocrisy that goes on in people who, you know, describe themselves as a philanthropist
and then they've got their parking, most of their dosh (ph) in somewhere like Panama or somewhere --
AMANPOUR: Or Jersey.
PERRY: -- in order stop paying tax. And I think, you wouldn't have to be a philanthropist if you paid all your tax in the first place because the
state would have more money and then it would -- you wouldn't need these charities, you know. And so, you know, that's what I'm trying to say with
AMANPOUR: Vogue said that where this exhibition is a little bit where making fun of the wealthy overlaps with made for the wealthy. That's the
nexus where your show exists. Do you agree?
PERRY: Yes. Totally. I mean, I'm -- as to quote Boris Johnson, you know, I'm very pro cake. I am pro eating it. But, you know, that's -- often art
operates in ambiguity. You know, it's a very important thing. You know, it's happy sad, trying to comment. You know, it's all these things are
And I think that serious, humorous and being kind of on the side of morality and also trying throw light on immorality at the same time is
something I'm fascinated by. These are inanimate objects. You know, they're not doing anything wrong. And I love playing with that.
And I think both sides enjoy it. Because, you know, the man on the street can come in here and look at them and go, yes, we're going to stick it to
the man. Yes, look at Grayson, he's taking a piss out of the people who have tax havens, you know, whatever.
And on the other hand, the person with the tax haven can come along and go, yes, that's me. He said -- this tapestry, someone came up to me and said -
PERRY: -- I looked at your tapestry, Grayson, and I went through all those words you've written on it, he said, yes, that's me to a T, you know,
that's you've got me.
AMANPOUR: Well, I think that's actually amazing because isn't that called a very -- what is that one called?
PERRY: That's called "Large Expensive Abstract Painting."
AMANPOUR: Exactly. Which is kind of what you're saying, a the lot of art buyers and collectors don't really know what they're buying but they just
want a large, expensive, abstract painting.
PERRY: Yes, that's the kind of subtext there, you know, that those things -- you know, the large and expensive might be more important than the
abstract or the painting. Rich art collectors, yes, they are usually intelligent, well-educated people and they are pretty robust, you know,
they're quite often been in a board room and handle politics, whoever, and they get the to and fro of life. They're not kind of snowflakes. You
know, they kind of like -- they take it on the chin.
And you know, Nam June Paik said right back in the '70s, an artists' job is to bite the hand that feeds it but not too hard.
AMANPOUR: And you agree? He, of course, is the American video artist?
PERRY: Yes. Very, very famous.
PERRY: He was one of the, actually, pioneers of video art.
AMANPOUR: You either were described or described yourself in your early days as being, you know, angry. Angry about aspects of life, angry about
the political realities, angry about the social inequalities.
Now, I've seen that you've sort of describe yourself as amateur, sociologist, anthropologist. You're sort of shifting your own mood a
little bit on what you're seeing.
PERRY: Yes. Well, you know, I've been through various phases in my career. I mean, I've got a show coming out next year that is touring the
country, that's all my work before '92 and '94, and it's called "Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years," you know. Because I think that was the real
(INAUDIBLE) in me and I was angry and to a certain extent quite bitter about -- you know, but it was -- I think it's with the outburst (ph), it's
just me and I was holding emotion in my body.
And afterwards, you know, I've got a more kind of broader view of the world and my work became less autobiographical and it's more about society now.
And you know, I think it's improved for that, you know.
AMANPOUR: And you were mostly angry about you had an unhappy childhood.
PERRY: Yes. You know, and I think that, you know, I was carrying a lot of unexamined feelings. Yes. Which I did in the course of therapy and I now
feel pretty cleansed of those.
AMANPOUR: So the therapy is the water shed moment.
AMANPOUR: To be honest with you, it's not about this subject necessarily, but that's probably a really important message for a lot of people, young
people, older people right now struggling with mental health crises.
PERRY: Yes, I wouldn't say every mental health crisis is you can always deal with it by up talking to a therapist but I think a lot more than
people imagine. Because a lot, the most or basic ways we go through the world, we inherit them and they're dysfunctional from our past and we've
got to unpick those.
AMANPOUR: Was Clare, your alter ego, part of trying to brighten up a difficult life or does she have nothing to do with your childhood?
PERRY: I'm sure she had a lot to do with my childhood. I mean if you think about -- I mean I often joke that there's no one as sexist as a
transvestite. Because they -- a transvestite, someone like me, depends on very clear gendered behavior in order to be excited about crossing the
boundary, about being in the wrong clothes, about doing the wrong behaviors.
And there's an excitement and a stimulation and an (inaudible) charge in those things. So if we live in a world where, you know, people of either
sex could behave in any way, they felt free, then there wouldn't be any transvestites.
AMANPOUR: You actually said that your feeling -- as you say, things have moved so far that nothing is so abnormal, so to speak, or nothing is
crossing the line and you're no longer feeling like you're the weirdo in the streets in a dress.
PERRY: Well, I'm Grayson Perry now. I'm still the weirdo in the street in a dress but I'm Grayson Perry the weirdo, which makes it very different.
Because celebrity trumps kind of a front in some sort of ways.
So people, when they see me now, they might think that's Grayson Perry. And that's nice. And I have -- well, one of the great things that I like
and because of my T.V. work and the nature of the kind of subjects I deal with, I have a very broad demographic in my audience.
So I love it when a captain shouts to me, (inaudible) Grayson as he's going past. And I always think I'm working, it's working. Great.
AMANPOUR: Has Clare changed? To me, she looks a bit more bouffant, those (inaudible) glasses, more sort of ground down.
PERRY: Yes. I mean it's a look that I've always loved, ever since the '60s, I suppose, because I grew up -- you know, our sexuality, to a certain
extent, is shaping our childhood. That's when the building blocks of our sexuality are laid down, particular styling.
And, you know, I grew up in a world of women with big hair, who are very well groomed. And so I've always had a soft spot for the grown dome, with
the big beehive hairdo.
And so yes, I like going out in that look now. You know, and I'm on the park everyday going around to all the west end shops dressed as that grand
And I love that look. It's probably my favorite look but it takes a lot of work and money.
AMANPOUR: I think you said an hour and a half of makeup.
PERRY: Yes. It's really -- yes, it's a labor of love, more labor of lust. I mean I'm not sure.
AMANPOUR: OK. So Grayson, this is you as Clare. What are you saying? You're outside all these fancy clothes shops, designer stores.
PERRY: I mean all these designer clothes shops are within a handbag's throw of this exact gallery. I mean we're here in London.
And so I thought it would be fun to do a piece that kind of acknowledged that but also it's called "shopping for meaning." It's an acknowledgment
of the humanity of the rich, in some ways. It's sort of saying you're looking for meaning.
AMANPOUR: I do notice you do have a soft spot for the rich. I mean, you are trying to humor -- I love that. But you're trying to also humanize
them. I mean we're living in a moment where the superrich are not the most super popular.
PERRY: A lot of the problems that are attributed to the rich reach very far down the income scale. I mean I'm not saying, you know, it's the
average income, but, you know, someone who can afford a nice house in the middle of a big city in one of the developed countries is doing all right.
PERRY: And I think that they might want to look into their own eyes before they, you know.
AMANPOUR: And interestingly, in the other room, we saw where you're actually making fun of them, with their money going on holiday and that
whole sort of Instagram superrich. And here, you're doing what you've said just, humanizing them. So again you have this constant flow of
contradictions throughout almost every piece and between pieces.
PERRY: Yes. I mean, I'm -- you know, that's the line I want to dance because I think that in the end, as an artist, a polemic is quite dull. It
has no crystal.
When I see a comedy show I like -- when I don't know whether to cry or laugh, there's a sweet spot to me. And so I try to sort of, in my own way,
with my work, try to find people are kind of oh --
AMANPOUR: Should I laugh? Should I cry? Should I --
PERRY: All these things are very, very important because they're human, that's who we are. I don't want to aggrandize my project.
But in the end I want people to acknowledge it. We complicate it. and human, and we can't deal with that. We're not a kind of set of facts and
AMANPOUR: Finally, I just want to sort of get you to talk about your message here. Do you want to read this? You wrote it. It's the last
paragraph in an article you wrote for the FT.
PERRY: Oh, OK. Here we go.
In the perverse spirit of the times, I'm trying to critique and call out the hypocrisies and anti-social behavior of the superrich while colluding
with them and sucking up to them at the same time.
And I think that does sum me up. And I think that in this age of polarization and division in society, I think we've all got to come to
terms and have a bit of empathy for the other side.
And you might find some of their opinions but nobody is really as black and white as Twitter would make you think, you know. And I've just been
shooting a T.V. series in the states, you know, about these issues.
And the minute you talk to anybody, all that -- and you know that Christiane, the minute you talk to them, you've got a (inaudible) person in
front of you --
AMANPOUR: That's right.
PERRY: -- and then nuance and complex. And it's difficult, you know, because, you might like them and yet they hold a baron views. And it's
AMANPOUR: Grayson Perry, thank you very much indeed.
And we could certainly all do with more empathy in today's world.
Now, since political and social currents run through art, we turn now to the award-winning musical polymath Rhiannon Giddens, a folk singer and
Giddens grew up in North Carolina. And she's also a classically trained opera singer. She's on a mission to reframe the history of African-
Americans and their contributions to the musical landscape. A quest that is already won her a Macarthur Genius Grant.
Rhiannon sat down with our Walter Isaacson to discuss her latest album "There Is No Other" and to play some banjo.
WALTER ISAACSON, CONTRIBUTOR: You have this amazing new album called "There Is No Other" and it's about diversity and different strains coming
together. First, let me ask you about your own personal ancestry.
RHIANNON GIDDENS, MUSICIAN: You know my parents got married in North Carolina. Interracial couple, got married, not -- but three -- maybe three
years after the loving decision --
ISAACSON: In other words, that t allowed interracial marriage in North Carolina.
GIDDENS: Yes. I grew up kind of going back and forth between my white side and my black side. And then kind of as the years have pass, you hear
these hints of stories about Indian blood and this and that and kind of going all right. And then I started kind of getting interested in that
side of things.
ISAACSON: So Native American background you had, too.
GIDDENS: Native American, yes. And so I got myself got interested in that side of things at the high school that I went to. There's a Native
American drumming group there and a powwow that happens every year.
And so I learned how to sing powwow songs and, you know, really just kind of explored that for my own self.
ISAACSON: Where is this?
GIDDENS: This is in -- this was in Durham, North Carolina.
ISAACSON: Durham, North Carolina.
GIDDENS: North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.
ISAACSON: Because you have Greensboro, William, and Durham, quite a few of North Carolina roots in you. How does it all come together and what are
you trying to do by bringing them together with this album?
GIDDENS: I kind of feel like I represent, you know, a lot of the south, which is a mixture of black, white, and native elements. We're not quite
sure exactly what comes from what. Sometimes we are and sometimes we're not, and that's kind of how my, you know, my roots are.
And I don't like to -- that's why I kind of -- I'm not looking for any kind of validation or claim a particular kind of this or that. It's kind of
like well, I'm a mix. And I think the best of American music comes from that aspect of the mixture.
And so that's kind of what I've been doing with my music in America, like, looking particularly at the African-American heart of things. Because in
the music that I've been interested in, it's been sort of suppressed.
The true role of black Americans and the creation of some of these things like, you know, country music, all time music, bluegrass, you know, things
at the heart of lot of what is really American. And so I've been doing that for some years and this record, you know, "There Is No Other", it was
an opportunity to place that in a global context.
ISAACSON: And it talks about the ties that bind us, as well.
GIDDENS: Exactly. So, you know, when I met Francesco, who was my musical partner, who I did the record with, he's from Italy, very similar story to
I went to classical school and learned how to sing opera and then kind of came back to my roots in North Carolina. And, you know, he went to
conservatory and kind of went back to the folk music of his folks, which should be the Mediterranean. And his family is from Sicily.
And, you know, his journey has been trying to, you know, talk about how mixed that area is and how you wouldn't say have the renaissance without
the years of Arabic domination of Spain, of Sicily, of all these areas. You have this incredible influx of cultural elements from somewhere else
that then transform to what was already there.
And so that's what I've been talking about on my side of things. So we basically kind of just met across the Atlantic Ocean and found out that
there's actually a lot of similarities and parallels in what we're both doing. And so that's kind of what we've done is put our musics together.
ISAACSON: So I saw you in the Ken Burns documentary on country music. And we think of country music as sort of a white genre. And you've helped
resurrect the roots of country music for many diverse backgrounds including the African-American one.
GIDDENS: Well, I mean I'm, you know, and a handful of people who've really been trying to change the narrative or restore the narrative. Because
really, it has been a crafted thing and as I've been researching what I find is that it didn't happen by accident. This idea that the banjo is a
white instrument, that country is this, you know, base of pure white culture. Because that's what it's sold as.
And so when I first got into folk music and found the origins of the banjo being African-American, I was like what, then I kind of started going what
else don't I know? And that's really kind of what started me down the path, you know, which is why I'm sitting in front of you today. It's kind
of led me to everything that I feel like is meaningful in what I do with my music because it's not just a music issue. It's a real cultural issue.
And what we're finding today is that people feel really divided and they feel like, you know, I'm not like them and they're not like us. But when
you look at the music of America, you find that this is a place where we all came together and created this beautiful thing.
But if you rewrite history and take out one of the pillars of this, it's not like African-Americans influenced people. They did but they're also
one of the main pillars of this. That can't be stated strongly enough. That without African-Americans, without black string band music, without
the banjo, country music, as we know it, would not exist.
ISAACSON: And this goes back to the 1850s where African-Americans were leading in the banjo movement.
GIDDENS: Well, it goes back way before that. I mean, the banjo comes from the 1700s. You've got the banjo coming up from the Caribbean. You know,
up until the 1840s, '30s only black people played the banjo.
So it's only in 1830s that white entertainers start to take it and perform with it and it becomes kind of an inextricable part of the show. And
that's one of the reasons why we don't engage with this because, you know, despite the fact that it was the most popular form of entertainment in
America for over 50 or 60 years, people want to forget it.
You know, except for when it pops up with people who are in black face. Even today. It's a really -- it's woven into our cultural in so many
different ways and we just have to kind of come to grips with that in a way that is informed.
You know, there's a lot of knee jerk reactions from somebody. But at the heart of it is American music. It's the music that kind of goes in. It's
a combination of African, European, all of these kind of things go into what became instrumental music.
So what happens in Ken's documentary, Ken Burns' country music documentary is a piece of it and it's a really important piece but there's like a
mountain under that, that we're trying to grapple with.
ISAACSON: When you first got interested in square dancing, did you know that it had been sort of created as a white genre by people like Henry Ford
and were you trying to rescue the roots of square dancing?
GIDDENS: I mean I had no idea. I mean, square dancing, you know, it was - - I learned it in middle school. This is part of this whole thing to, you know, as this is America's dance or whatever. By America, we mean white
And so I never thought it had anything to do with me, you know. And so when I started calling contra dances a square, I kind of felt like, you
know, we like to say I was the raisin in the oatmeal. I was used to being the only one and felt like I was sort of inserting myself in somebody
ISAACSON: But you felt you were black. You say you were on both sides.
GIDDENS: This is the reality of being, you know, biracial in America or whatever, you know, southern is that it's the shifting thing. It's a
target that you can't ever really catch down because some people treat me this way, some people treat me this way. When I'm here, I feel this way.
When I'm here, I feel this way.
And so I fluidly have followed that, you know. Now, I feel like I'm North Carolinian, I'm southern. But back then, I mean it's really hard. You
kind of have to try to.
So even though it's a legacy that is mine just by right of being southern, I still of kind felt -- and then also I don't look like anybody else.
There, you know.
So there's just realities to that. But I got it too because I loved it. And I love the banjo and I love the sound. And then as I started to find
the history, I went wow, you know.
And then I found out that, oh, black people probably invented calling. Wow, that we played for these dances. Wow. Like we had a huge piece of
creating what has been set aside as this ethnically pure white thing.
And I'm like this is is a problem because the actual truth is actually way more interesting and it's actually more indicative of who we are as a
people. Like, people up here whose best interest it is to keep us divided, they don't want us to know this stuff.
You know, because then it just makes us kind of oh, then actually we outnumbered them, wait a minute, you know. And this has been the conflict
of the south since the very beginning, is keeping all the poor people, all the working class people at each other's throats through the invention of
And that has been expressed through music. So I'm a musician, so it's the only way I can fight that is through knowing the history and doing it
ISAACSON: You have an 1850s replica banjo there. Show it to us and show us some of the roots of the music that you can do with that banjo.
GIDDENS: So for me, this is a lot closer to -- you know, I studied some pre-banjo instruments in West Africa and, to me, this is a lot closer to
that than, you know, say the modern bluegrass banjo.
So when I picked it up, I kind of -- I felt an affinity for it. And for the majority of the banjos' life, this is what the banjo sounded like.
It's deep and resonate, which is very different to what people think of as the banjo.
ISAACSON: So show me some Hillbilly roots that you would do on the banjo.
GIDDENS: Well, it's interesting because there are things that, you know, instrumental style, playing was called stroke style. It's called claw
ISAACSON: Very percussive.
GIDDENS: Oh, yes, banjo is very percussive. Take off the stick, you have a drum, right.
And they think -- there's an idea that the way that they did this came from a frame drum or the tambourine, but that's -- it's unsubstantiated.
ISAACSON: So what other influences go in? We have the Hillbilly. Tell us about some of the influences that go into banjo playing.
GIDDENS: Well, I mean Hillbilly is a term that, you know, became used as a way to try to -- you know, if you talk about Hillbilly, it's like -- it's
people who lived in the mountains and they were from all over. There's a lot of (inaudible), there's a lot of this but there was up to 20 percent
And the idea of the music being, you know, untouched for hundreds of years in the mountains, it's kind of not a thing really. I mean nobody is
isolated. You know, people are more isolated than others and there is music that definitely survived in the mountains longer than in other
places, but it's kind of been taken as a thing, you know. And sort of this mythology has been -- has grown around it.
So what goes into this early music is European dance forms, African, you know, tunes and rhythms. Not just rhythms, there's lots of tunes.
ISAACSON: Show me a little African influence there.
GIDDENS: I mean, it's hard -- it's really hard to say. There's just things that I do feel and I play. There's a lot of techniques that are
still on this old banjo tunes that have been kind of whittled out when you start getting into later what we think of as Appalachian music on different
kind of banjos.
So I am finding these kind of oh, wow that feels like, you know, it's all feelings.
ISAACSON: It feels like African, it feels like --
GIDDENS: It feels like -- you know, especially when I approach things, you know, in that way, I'm like oh, I can really hear this upstroke and this
offbeat and all of this kind of stuff really starts to come out of this really early instrumental music.
And I just think there's so many connections there that are still to be found, you know, still need to be studied.
And, I mean, I'm not a scholar, I'm an amateur historian but through just playing these things and coming from learning old time music from an older
black string band musician, you know, I learned from Joe Thompson who was 87, who was the last living link to that old southern black tradition and
we know that he is an indirect line from a famous black string band musician in Craig Johnson from the 1800s. You know, it's a direct lineage
from Frank Johnson to me.
And so having that kind of vibe and then approaching these tunes, I feel like, has brought a different way of looking at them than say just sort of
an academic way.
ISAACSON: And you create the Carolina Chocolate Drops as a banjo band, in a way, to help resurrect and play with the music.
GIDDENS: Yes. I'm a cofounder of that band along with Don Phlegmens and Justin Robinson. It all came out of us going and playing with Joe
Playing with him on Thursday nights and sort of absorbing his family's music. And, you know, I played the banjo because Joe would never play
without a banjo player. So I said well, I'll play banjo and Justin played fiddle and Don played guitar.
And we just kind of absorbed as much as we could. You know, it's a different kind of conservatory.
ISAACSON: Show me something you did with the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
GIDDENS: I wouldn't have played this banjo back then.
ISAACSON: Some of the things you resurrected were painful, especially the Wilmington massacre, which has sort of also been forgotten in history a
little bit. Tell me --
GIDDENS: A little bit? A lot of it. I mean I'm from North Carolina and we didn't learn this in school. It's astonishing that we did not learn
It should be taught nationally. It's the only coup on American soil and this is huge.
ISAACSON: Tell me about it.
GIDDENS: So what happened was in Wilmington, you had -- in 1898, you had a fairly progressive idea of you had black middle class wealth, you had
blacks and whites working together, and most importantly, you had a political party where you had whites and blacks working together and that's
what people didn't like.
So the ruling sort of, I guess, you know, the white supremacists, basically, you know, did not like this. And so they did a campaign. They
used the KKK, you know, campaign of intimidation, kind of the usual thing, the year leading up to the elections.
People got a bunch of guns and they just shot, they shot people. They ran prominent black and white citizens out of town, never to be allowed to
They shot a lot of black people just in the streets or some ran off into the swamps and petrified and died of exposure. I mean it was an awful
chapter in our history and then it was completely covered up, like, it never happened.
ISAACSON: So what are you going to do with that music?
GIDDENS: I mean I would like to make a piece of art out of the -- it's not even just so much, I mean, the massacre is a horrible thing, the act of
violence. But what I want to focus on is, you know, the idea of what we had, you know. It was possible.
You know, the idea that we could live in harmony at that time, that if that had been not stopped in its tracks, you know, what could have led to, you
know. And the fact that the federal government didn't do a darn thing, I mean -- so I think the idea of highlighting the beauty and feeling the
heartbreak that that was destroyed, rather than focusing on the act of the destruction.
ISAACSON: So what will it be?
GIDDENS: I'm not sure yet. I mean I think a stage production would be amazing. You know, I'm still kind of figuring it out because John Jeremiah
Sullivan has been working on this research for years and I know he's working on a piece.
ISAACSON: He wrote The New Yorker piece.
GIDDENS: He write The New Yorker Piece. Yes. And that's how I learned about the massacre because he lives in Wilmington. And so I know, you
know, we'll be working on whatever it is together because he -- I mean he's just -- his research has just been unbelievable. And he's finding out a
lot of really important things about it.
So I think it's going to be an important thing to discuss, especially now we've got the 1619 project. A lot of people have been really grappling
with where we are, where we've come from.
And I think these things from the past that aren't that long ago, when you look at it, can really be -- you know, when you grapple with them in an
artistic way and get people emotionally invested, you can really make a difference talking about what is happening now. You know, because then you
can see more clearly, you know, the traces.
ISAACSON: Thank you so much.
GIDDENS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And as she points out, all contemporary American music traces its roots to African-American music.
That's it for now. Remember, you can listen to our podcast, see us online at amanpour.com, and follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.