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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. Interview with Musiicna and Music Historian Rhiannon Giddens. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 2, 2020 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." This Holiday Season, we are dipping into the
archives, looking back at some of our favorite interviews from the year, and 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.
Now, 2019 has seen Europe in a state of upheaval. As the block roars into the 2020s, that fragility is likely to remain, the countries must not
reckon with the electoral success of nationalist, populists and far-right politics across the continent.
Some of this fervor can be traced back to the Balkans of the 1990s, when Europe saw the first outbreak of violent nationalism since World War II,
which is why critics were so alarmed when the 2019 Novel prize in literature was given to Austrian novelist and playwright, Peter Handke.
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, he is 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 ago, 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 with ignoring or bending the facts themselves in order to cast Handke as an amoral monster and apologist for genocide, which he
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 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 side --
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. 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 after wards, 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 failings, yes, which I did in the course of therapy and I've now
feel pretty cleansed to those in the home.
AMANPOUR: So, the therapy is the watershed moment?
PERRY: Yes, definitely.
AMANPOUR: To be honest with you -- and that'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 sort of 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 of the most sort of 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 Claire, your alter ego, part of trying to brighten up a difficult life, or did she have nothing to do with your childhood?
PERRY: Oh, 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
And there's an excitement and a stimulation and an erotic charge in those things. And so if we live in a world where people of either sex could
behave in any way they felt free, then there wouldn't be any transvestites.
AMANPOUR: And you actually said that you're 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 affront 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 TV 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 cabbie shouts to me, love your tapestries, Grayson, as he's going past. And I always think, I'm working -- it's working. Great.
AMANPOUR: Has Claire changed? To me, she looks a bit more bouffanty, those Diamante glasses, more sort of grande dame?
PERRY: Yes, I mean it's a look that I have always loved, ever since the '60s, I suppose, because I grew up -- and our sexuality, to a certain
extent, is shaped in our childhood. You know that. That's when the building blocks of our sexuality are laid down, particular styling.
And I grew up in a world of women with big hair who were very well-groomed. And so I have always had a soft spot for the grande dame with the big
beehive hairdo. And so, yes, I like going out in that look now.
And I'm on the park over there going around to all the West End shops dressed as that grand dame. 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.
PERRY: Or a labor of lust, maybe. I'm not sure.
So, Grayson, this is you as Claire. 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 Mayfair 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...
PERRY: I love that.
AMANPOUR: But you are trying to also humanize them. I mean, we're living in a moment where the super rich 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 it's the average income,
but 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 super rich one.
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.
I mean, I'm -- you know, I -- 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
brisance. I love -- when I see a comedy show, I like when I don't know whether to cry or laugh.
There's the sweet spots for 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 buy it or should I...
PERRY: Yes. And I think all these things are very, very important, because they're human, and that's who we are.
And I suppose it is -- I don't want to aggrandize my project. But, in the end, I want people to acknowledge that we're complicated and human, and
we've got to deal with that. We can't -- we're not a kind of set of facts and statistics.
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 "F.T."
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 super rich,
while colluding with them and sucking up to them -- sucking up to them at the same time. What's not to like?"
And I think that does sum me up. And I think that, in this age of polarization and divisions 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. And I have just been shooting a
TV series in the States about these issues.
And the minute you talk to anybody, all that -- and you know that, Christiane. The minute you talk to the person, you've got flesh-and-blood
person in front of you.
AMANPOUR: That's right.
PERRY: And they're nuanced and complex. And it's difficult, because you might like them, and yet they abhorrent views. And it's tricky.
Grayson Perry, thank you very much, indeed.
AMANPOUR: 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
multi-instrumentalist. 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 has 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, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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: Right.
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 allowed interracial marriage in North Carolina.
I grew up kind of going back and forth between my white side and my black side. And then, kind of as the years would pass, you would kind of hear
these hints of stories about Indian blood and this and that and kind of going, all right.
And then -- and then I started kind of getting interested in that side of things.
ISAACSON: So, Native American background that 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 was a Native American drumming group called
Akwe:kon, and a powwow that happens there every year.
And so I learned how to sing powwow songs and really just kind of explored that just for my own self.
ISAACSON: Yes, where is this?
GIDDENS: This is in -- this was in Durham, North Carolina.
ISAACSON: Durham, North Carolina.
GIDDENS: So, at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. It's a...
ISAACSON: Because you have Greensboro, William, and Durham, quite a few. You have North Carolina roots in you.
ISAACSON: 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 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. Sometimes, we are. Sometimes, we're not.
And that's kind of how 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 claiming 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 it, the mixture. And so that's kind of what I have been doing with my music in
America, like, looking particularly at the African-American heart of things, because, in the music that I have been interested in, it's been
sort of suppressed, the true role of black Americans in the creation of some of these things, like country music, old-time music, bluegrass, things
at the heart of lot of what is really American.
And so I have been doing that for some years. And this record, "There Is No Other," there -- it was an opportunity to place that in a global
ISAACSON: And it talks about the ties that bind us as well.
So when I met Francesco, who is my musical partner, it's who I did the record with, he's from Italy, very similar story to mine.
I went to classical school, and learned how to sing opera, and then kind of came back to my roots in North Carolina. And 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 all from Sicily.
And his journey has been trying to 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
transformed what was already there.
And so that's what I have 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 from many diverse backgrounds, including the African-American one.
GIDDENS: Well, I mean, I -- I'm in 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 have been researching, what I find is that it didn't happen by accident, this idea that the banjo is a white instrument, the country is
this bastion 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? And then I kind of started
going, well, what else don't I know?
And that's really kind of what started me down the path, 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 a -- 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, 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, right?
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
play 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 minstrel show.
And that's one of the reasons why we don't engage with this, because, despite the fact that it was the most popular form of entertainment in
America for over like 50 or 60 years, people want to forget it, you know, except for when it pops up with people who are in blackface 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
learned -- that is informed.
You know, there's a lot of knee-jerk reactions. When somebody say minstrel, it's like -- you know? But at the heart of minstrelsy is
American music, is 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 was -- I learned it in middle school. This is part of this whole thing to as -- this is America's dance or whatever. By
America, we mean white America.
And so I never thought it had anything to do with me. And so when I started calling contra dances or square, I kind of felt like we like to say
I was the raisin in the oatmeal. I was used to being the only one. And I kind of felt like I was sort of inserting myself in somebody else's
ISAACSON: But you felt you were black then? Because you say you are on both sides.
GIDDENS: This is the reality of being biracial in America or try whatever, Southern, is that it's a 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
And so I fluidly have followed that. Now, I feel like I'm North Carolinian. I'm Southern.
ISAACSON: Yes. That's right.
GIDDENS: 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.
So there's just realities to that. But I got into it because I loved it, and I loved the banjo and I loved the sound. And then, as I started to
find the history, I went, wow. 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 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, oh, we outnumbered them.
Wait a minute. 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 race. 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 through music.
ISAACSON: You have an 1850s replica banjo there.
GIDDENS: I do.
ISAACSON: 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, say, the modern bluegrass banjo.
So, when I picked it up, I kind of -- I felt an affinity for it. And it's fretless. And for the majority of the banjo's life, this is what the banjo
sounded like. It's deep and resonant, which is very different to what people think of as the banjo. So...
ISAACSON: So show me some hillbilly roots that you would do on the banjo.
GIDDENS: Well, it's interesting, because there are things that -- the minstrel style of playing was called stroke style. It's called clawhammer
ISAACSON: So, it's percussive.
GIDDENS: Oh, yes, the banjo is very percussive. You take off the stick, you have a drum, right?
GIDDENS: 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
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 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 was a lot of Scott-Irish. There's a lot of this. But there was -- up to 20 percent were African-American. And the idea of the music being
untouched for hundreds of years in the mountains, it's kind of not a -- it's not 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. And sort of this
mythology has been -- has grown around it.
So what goes into this early music is European dance forms, African tunes and rhythms, not just rhythm. There's lots of tunes...
ISAACSON: Show me a little African influence then.
GIDDENS: I mean, it's hard -- it's really hard to say.
There's just things that I do feel. I play -- I mean, there's just -- there's a lot of techniques that are still on these old banjo minstrel
tunes that have been kind of winnowed out when you start getting into later what we think of as Appalachian music on different kind of banjos.
And so I am finding these kind of like, oh, wow, that really feels like -- it's all feelings, because...
ISAACSON: But it feels like African or it feels like...
GIDDENS: It feels like -- you know, especially when I approach things 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 minstrel music.
And I just think that there's so many connections there that are still to be found, still need to be studied. And, I mean, I'm not a scholar. I'm a
kind of armchair historian, but through just playing these things and coming from learning old-time music from an old -- older black string band
I learned from Joe Thompson, who was 87, who was the last living link to that old Southern black string band tradition. And now we -- we now know
that he is an indirect line from a famous black string band musician named Frank Johnson from the 1800s.
And it's a direct lineage from Frank Johnson to me. And so having that kind of vibe, and then approaching these minstrel tunes, I feel like, has
brought a different way of looking at them than, say, just sort maybe an academic way.
ISAACSON: And you create the Carolina Chocolate Drops as a banjo band, in a way, to help resurrect and play with this music?
GIDDENS: Yes. I'm a co-founder of that band, along with Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson.
It all came out of us going and playing with Joe Thompson, playing with him on Thursday nights and sort of absorbing his family's music. And I played
the banjo because Joe would never play without a banjo player.
So I said, well, I will play banjo, and Justin played fiddle and Dom played guitar. And we just kind of absorbed as much as we could from -- 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 resurrect have been really painful, or that you work out, especially the Wilmington massacre, which has sort of
also been forgotten in history a little bit.
Tell me what you're doing.
GIDDENS: A little bit?
GIDDENS: A lot bit.
I mean, I'm from North Carolina, and we didn't learn this in school. It's astonishing that we did not learn this. It should be taught nationally.
It was 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 called the Fusionists where you had whites and blacks
working together. And that's what people didn't like.
So, the ruling sort of -- I guess they had been ruling -- the white supremacists, basically, did not like this. And so they did a campaign.
They used the KKK, campaign of intimidation, kind of the usual thing, the year leading up until 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
return. They shot a lot of black people just in the streets, or some ran off into the swamps 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 the 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
But what I want to focus on is the idea of what we had. 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, what could it have led to?
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
ISAACSON: And he wrote the "New Yorker" piece.
GIDDENS: He wrote the "New Yorker" piece on me.
ISAACSON: On you.
And that's how I learned about the massacre, because he lives in Wilmington. And so I 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. So, 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 -- 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, because then you can see more clearly
ISAACSON: Thank you so much for joining us.
GIDDENS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for now, but join us again tomorrow night, when we will be looking back at my conversation with the Iraq War whistle-blower
Her story inspired the film "Official Secrets," which stars Keira Knightley. And I spoke to her about what it takes to blow the whistle on
your own government.
Thanks for watching this special edition of AMANPOUR. And, remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at Amanpour.com. And you
can follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
Goodbye from London.