Barbican Guide
April 2021


Just one month to go until we can start to reopen (touch wood), and we can’t wait. However, although the Centre is closed, there’s still plenty going on this month. 

Ahead of the opening of our major new exhibition, we introduce you to Jean Dubuffet – father of Art Brut.

Concerts will start up again this month through our Live from the Barbican streaming platform. Discover why pianist Benjamin Grosvenor can’t wait to get back on a stage, and what drummer Moses Boyd has been up to since his last concert more than a year ago. Physical theatre experts The PappyShow tell us how they've been keeping creative despite lockdown – and how. 

The Barbican Young Poets have moved online for their latest showcase, while the Chronic Youth team has also been readying a hybrid model for this year’s film festival. Find out what's to expect from those a little further on.

This month is the Academy Awards. The nominations this year were a significant step for representation, says our Cinema Curator, Sonia Zadurian.

And if you haven’t already explored it, take a deep dive with the London Symphony Orchestra’s LSO Play, which lets you explore music from a new perspective.

There’s plenty there to put a spring in your step – and just in time, too.   

The LSO at your fingertips

If you’ve ever sat in the audience and wished you could carefully step between the music stands to take a closer look at the performers, LSO Play is the answer to your prayers.



The innovative, award-winning experience from the London Symphony Orchestra allows you to watch one of six performances from four camera angles simultaneously, with three further options at your fingertips. It’s filmed in high detail, so if you've ever wanted to see the drumsticks bouncing off the snare drum or a violinist's fingers gently pluck the strings, you can.

See conductors Sir Simon Rattle, Michael Tilson Thomas, François-Xavier Roth and Valery Gergiev lead the orchestra in music such as Ravel’s Bolero, Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, and Shostakovich’s magnificent Fifth Symphony. LSO Play will continue to grow as more and more LSO concerts are filmed in this way.

A Screenshot from LSO Play

A Screenshot from LSO Play

Alongside the performances, there are videos about how the music was written, biographical information on the composers, and interviews with LSO musicians about their roles in the concerts. Whether you’re familiar with or new to this music, the insights give you a deeper understanding.

You can also explore an interactive map of the orchestra and find out about the different sections, from the timpani to the trombone, first violins to contrabassoon.

LSO Play was designed to be particularly useful for teachers and schools, and includes downloadable resources which can be used to develop classroom projects around the music.

There may be no substitute for a live performance – but you’ll never be able to see the orchestra in this way at a concert.


Season 2 of our podcast series Inspired features young creatives talking to well-known theatre and performance artists who have influenced them. Recorded as part of our Nothing Concrete podcast, Episode 1 sees Barbican Young Poets alum and interdisciplinary artist Riwa Saab talk to writer and director Kirsty Housley about her extensive career in theatre.

Amani Saeed by Jolade Olusanya

Amani Saeed by Jolade Olusanya

Other episodes feature international spoken word artist and Barbican Young Poet Amani Saeed in conversation with storyteller Amrou Al-Kadhi to talk about gender identity, faith and drag performance, and sound artist, composer and Guildhall School of Music & Drama graduate Rebecca Alero talks to vocalist, movement artist and composer Elaine Mitchener about improvisation, contemporary music theatre and performance art. Barbican Young Film Programmer and author Rogan Graham discusses acting and activism with actress and writer Susan Wokoma, while multidisciplinary practitioner Gabriel Akamo, and writer and performer Jeremiah Brown (both Barbican Young Poets) talks to actor Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù about his career, heritage and legacy.

Subscribe to Nothing Concrete wherever you get your podcasts.

Creativity in lockdown

The PappyShow artistic director Kane Husbands and performer Kwami Odoom share how they’re still creating and developing work despite theatres being closed.

The PappyShow: Boys, (c) Helen Murray

The PappyShow: Boys, (c) Helen Murray

With theatres dark, and rehearsals out of bounds, how are theatre companies staying creative?

To find out, we thought we’d catch up with one of our Open Lab alumni, The PappyShow. The company was formed to provide a space for actors and non-actors to train in physical theatre. Using exercise and training to devise and create work, the ensemble focuses on community cohesion and working together. If you’ve not discovered their work yet, you’re in for a treat.

‘This was meant to be our year,’ says artistic director Kane Husbands with a resigned laugh. ‘We'd just performed at the Southbank Centre. It was a major achievement to be recognised in that way and to be in such a big space. From there, we were going on tour.’

With a new show called Black Girl Magic in development, there was a powerful momentum behind The PappyShow, so when restrictions started in the UK, Husbands says like much of the Theatre world, they watched events unfold ‘through our fingertips’.

‘We weren’t in a place where we could just say “let’s stop for a year”,’ says Husbands. ‘We’re a constant presence for the people we work with – we’re like a family.’

The PappyShow (c) Helen Murray

The PappyShow (c) Helen Murray

Founder member, actor Kwami Odoom (the pair met while working on the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony) adds, ‘We’ve constantly been thinking, “what do people in our community need? What would be beneficial for them?” Some things we felt were beneficial, but we weren't the right company to offer them.’

In response to the resurging Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of George Floyd, the company offered spaces for its Black cast members to come together and talk. There were also weekly chats which enabled conversations raised by the shows to continue.

‘As a company, we’ve always tried to make work that responds to the times, to what's going on,' says Kane Husbands. ‘We’re doing mentoring schemes, anti-racism training, and responding to the context that's currently there.’

Lockdown created an opportunity for The PappyShow to do some internal reflection. What came out of that time was a decision to commission nine artists to make new work, giving each a small budget to bring their ideas to life. ‘It was a case of saying to them “we believe in you – do whatever you want”, rather than “pitch us ideas and we’ll pick the best”,’ says Husbands. The work includes photography, short film and music, and will be completed over the next three months.

There was also a chance for the company to develop its digital content. With money from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund , it organised a programme of free workshops. Open to performers and non-performers, the initial 70 online spaces were oversubscribed almost instantly, so more and more were added. Now the company runs weekly workshops for over 100 people at a time. ‘People log on from all over the world,’ beams Husbands. ‘It’s fantastic being able to bring a little bit of our flavour to all these different homes.’

The PappyShow (c) Helen Murray

The PappyShow (c) Helen Murray

The success of the workshops means The PappyShow has been able to reach more people than it ever expected, or could normally as a small company with just one base in London.

‘We pride ourselves in trying to be the most accessible and inclusive we can be,’ says Odoom. ‘Our thinking has always been about “how can we include people who aren’t always included”. Working online is a new way of reaching more people.’

For Husbands and Odoom, culture is life-changing – not just for them as individuals, but for everyone they reach.

‘Culture was transformative for me,’ says Husbands. 'Growing up, I thought I would be working in the shop round the corner from my parents’ house in Birmingham. Now we’ve travelled the world together, and we talk about inclusion and diversity. It gives my whole life meaning.’

Odoom says it took until he was in his 20s to realise how important it was to see himself represented in culture. ‘My favourite Power Ranger was the black one, but it took me a long time to realise why,’ he says. ‘In the last 12 months, when [Steve McQueen-directed stories of Black British history] Small Axe was on TV, it sparked so many conversations – people remembering what that time was like. Culture creates conversations across generations and communities and helps us learn from one another, particularly in the digital age, where we put so much trust and power in the written word. But there is so much information that could be lost to memory if it’s not written down. Culture is a way of capturing that and sharing with others.’

Discover cutting-edge poetry

Spring into the new season with new works from the Barbican Young Poets, whose showcase is going online this year.

Led by Jacob Sam-La Rose, the annual programme brings together poets, performers, writers and other creatives to learn from each other and discover other perspectives. In the past, the group have accessed our galleries and events as source material for new work and alumni have been part of other projects, as participants and as commissioned artists, for example in the Subject to Change: New Horizons programme and series 2 of Inspired on the Barbican’s Nothing Concrete podcast. Barbican Young Poets has a strong focus on each poet being part of a community, gaining skills and experience but also contributing to a rich and vibrant poetry landscape.

Gboyega Odubanjo says he joined Barbican Young Poets hoping to develop his skills further. ‘I definitely achieved that, but arguably more than that it’s helped me to grow as a person.

‘Barbican Young Poets is an open space where you’re invited to participate in whatever way that’s comfortable for you. It’s very rare to be given the space and time to simply focus on your poetry and that’s what the programme affords you.’

Poet Annie Hayter was also among the cohort. ‘What’s particularly special about the group is it creates a sense of community,’ she says. ‘Writing can be a very individual project at times, but we have been encouraged to share work with each other, and give and receive feedback.

‘You cannot underestimate how much it has changed not only my life but the lives of my peers and friends too. My career trajectory has been all because of this programme. It’s given me faith in myself and my own writing, and I met some of my closest friends through it.’

Find out more about Barbican Young Poets and sign up to Young Barbican.

Gboyega Odubanjo Photo: Catarina Rodrigues

Gboyega Odubanjo Photo: Catarina Rodrigues

Annie Hayter Photo: Catarina Rodrigues

Annie Hayter Photo: Catarina Rodrigues

The future sound of London

Catford drummer Moses Boyd’s sound blends jazz, grime, Afrobeat, and more to create on-your-feet bangers. Combining music of the past and present, it’s the city in sonic form.

Moses Boyd

Moses Boyd

Like when Indiana Jones snatches his hat from under a closing stone door, Moses Boyd’s final European tour date on 12 March 2020 at Electric Brixton scooted-in just a whisker before the first national lockdown put a stop to live music. It may have been one of the last concerts in front of an audience in the country, but more than a year later, he’s itching to get back on stage.

‘I’ve always known music is important to people, but seeing how important it is to people’s spiritual wellbeing when it's gone is amazing. It’s definitely renewed my sense of appreciation for that responsibility when you do get together and make music for people.’

The plan for his concert in our Hall involves a currently secret line-up of guests who’ll be joining him to perform Dark Matter.

‘It’s been so long since any of us played live,’ he says. ‘We’re just so excited to get back to that.’

The album – universally applauded by critics, nominated for the Mercury Prize, Mary Anne Hobbs’s album of 2020 – is simultaneously the sound of contemporary London and the continuation of a long history of Black music.

‘I’m just the continuation of the music of the Black diaspora,’ he told GQ last year. ‘I feel like most people resonate with people like Shabaka [Hutchings], Nubya [Garcia], Theon [Cross] and myself because we’ve grown up via the UK strand, which is influenced by sound system culture from Jamaica and the West Indies, where my family comes from. So, we’ve grown up listening to reggae, bashment, dancehall, grime, jungle, lovers rock, all of these sound system babies, and we’ve been able to go even further and look at the source: the acoustics from New Orleans... taking these instruments from Europe and making ragtime and bebop. We understand the lineage. We’re taking the old instruments, the tuba and the drums, but we’re playing music that is made and designed for a sound system.’

That deep understanding of music’s past feels central to Boyd’s sound. Jazz may be how he’s pigeon-holed, but as a real musicophile, his influences are broad. And this enforced period of isolation has enabled him to delve into his record collection again – thanks to a friend lending him a top-of-the-range audio system. Hearing familiar tracks with absolute clarity has been like listening to them afresh, he enthuses.

Dark Matter was released on his own label, Exodus – and while he doesn't rule out working with labels in the future, he says for this record, it was important for him to maintain that ownership.

‘Not to knock any labels, but I like to do my own thing,’ he says. ‘With Dark Matter, I wanted to make the album and deliver it, and whoever liked it, liked it. I didn’t need A&Rs or creative direction, I wanted to flex how I choose.

‘I’m always open to advice and input, but it’s more about having our own things, particularly for my community, that's important. That ethos I’ve had instilled in me all my life by my parents. It’s not about full control, but ownership and building something for yourself.’

Moses Boyd: Live from the Barbican takes place on Sunday 18 April.

Escapism from the keyboard

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor says the colourful programme he’s chosen for his latest concert will take viewers on a journey. It’s the perfect antidote to our confined lives.

Benjamin Grosvenor (c) Patrick Allen

Benjamin Grosvenor (c) Patrick Allen

We all need a touch of escapism at the moment, and 28-year-old pianist wunderkind Grosvenor will be our pilot for a trip through the imagination. He’s picked music packed with Romance, drama, energy, and fantasy. A familiar face in our Hall, we caught up with him ahead of the latest in our Live From the Barbican series.

Hi Benjamin! How’s your year been? What has occupied your time during lockdown, while you’ve been unable to perform live as much as usual?

In the first lockdown I initially took a bit of time away from the piano, more than I ever have before, in fact! I spent the time reading and cooking, among other things. It was refreshing and invigorating then to return to it again after such an absence. I was happy to establish a chamber festival where I am based in south east London, and that we could present some of the first concerts to return with an audience last year. It’s something that I may not otherwise have had time for. I also recorded a CD of Liszt – original works and transcriptions – which is of personal significance for me in 2020, because Liszt was a favourite composer of my grandfather, who passed away at the beginning of the year. In the recent lockdown I’ve been enjoying exploring a lot of different repertoire, reading through many different things at the piano, but the combination of the circumstances with the short winter days made for a much more challenging experience.

Can you talk us through the music you’ve selected for this Barbican concert, and explain what each work means to you; how it makes you feel?

The programme has two pieces that mean a lot to me. Chopin’s Third Sonata I fell in love with at around the age of nine, when I was given the recording by Dinu Lipatti. I was desperate to play it for a few years until it was within my reach musically and technically (my hands were small at the time). I picked it up eventually when I was a teenager. Gaspard De La Nuit similarly has been in my repertoire for a while, and I recorded this when I was 18 for Decca.

I love the Sonata for its mix of nobility, angst, lyricism, lightness, darkness and drama. It is a hugely varied piece filled with memorable melodies and material, telling a unique story. Gaspard De La Nuit is some of the most evocative and atmospheric music written for the piano. It’s a joy to explore at the keyboard, with its ravishing array of textures and colours. Perhaps my favourite of the three is ‘Le Gibet’ which is so uniquely haunting and hypnotic, beautiful in a way that is terrible and austere.

With this colourful, romantic music, I wanted to include something that presented a contrast, and so I've included Ginastera's Danzas Argentinas. The outer movements are percussive, vibrant and rhythmic. The middle movement is haunting and wistful and something I enjoyed playing during the lockdown - the open fourths and fifths made me think of wide open spaces, and exotic lands. My hope is that Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria becomes something of an oasis of familiarity and simplicity in the middle of all this. It is an incredibly difficult arrangement - the kind of piece where an extra hand would be helpful!

What are you most looking forward to about playing live again?

I'm looking forward very much to simply being in the Barbican Centre, a place with many happy memories for me. While concerts with an audience are the ideal, concerts in such a hall – with the unusual intensity of a streaming audience – are still special events.

Benjamin Grosvenor: Live from the Barbican takes place on Saturday 10 April.

Curating from the small screen

Preparations for this year’s Chronic Youth film festival took on a new perspective due to lockdown. But it produced some very creative responses.

Acasa My Home

Acasa My Home

Bringing together films from across the world, Chronic Youth is curated by the Barbican Young Film Programmers. The current cohort of film-enthusiasts aged under 25 has been working somewhat differently from usual over the last six months because of the pandemic.

Led by mentor, film curator and maker Suzy Gillett, the course saw 12 participants meet up online for regular Zoom calls, to hear from cinema professionals, and to plan the festival.

‘Being wholly online had the advantage that we could take people from outside London,’ says Barbican Creative Learning Curator Lindsay O’Nions, who oversees the scheme. ‘That’s important to us because while there are amazing regional venue programmes, there are still people who would benefit from this programme, and in turn, we benefit from their input and perspectives. It’s a great opportunity for us to be more inclusive across the UK.’

Lisbon Beat

Lisbon Beat

Musanna Ahmed, 25, is among this year’s Young Film Programmers. A regular contributor to Film Inquiry, The Upcoming, The Movie Waffler and Total Film magazine, he says he signed up after frequent visits to film festivals left him inspired by the selections. ‘I wanted to expand my film writing into a curatorial context because I wanted to connect audiences to an exciting slate of films that I may not have heard of or even considered, the same way film festivals had done for me.’

Nana Ama, a 23-year-old photographer, filmmaker and writer from London, says she was drawn to the programme ‘because I appreciated the power of film in informing and shaping culture. I wanted to learn more about the curation of film events, and how to bring a more diverse cohort of films to the fore. I strongly believed that diversity needed to be reflected not only in the cast or narrative of a film, but at every level: in the directors, the producers and the distributors. Through this scheme, I now understand even more of how every step in the journey of a film is important in guiding how it is brought to and interpreted by film lovers.’

When it comes to choosing the films, the group has had two priorities, says Ahmed. ‘Firstly, we’ve been looking at films from outside of Britain and America, especially from territories British audiences see less often in the cinema such as Ghana, Sudan and Jordan. We believe there is such rich storytelling to be found in the global sphere, yet commercialism means some of them don’t get the distribution they deserve. Secondly, we’ve been searching for films that have had the least visibility in Britain, meaning they may be receiving their UK premiere or have only had limited screenings several months ago.’

Chronic Youth 2021

Chronic Youth 2021

The group discovered another advantage of being online was easier access to guest speakers, who included filmmakers, producers, independent curators, film festival organisers, and more.

The programme is designed to work both in Cinemas and online. Along with the films selected, there’s a variety of workshops and talks.

‘We all appreciate that many people are experiencing Zoom and screen-fatigue,’ says Ama, ‘so we are constantly asking ourselves what the appetite for themes in a film might be and when people are most likely to have time to be able to watch them in this new climate.

Ultimately, though, there’s one thing that being online or in-cinema doesn’t make any difference to, says Ahmed: ‘The quality of the films would remain paramount so our programming choices would have aligned the same way as they have now.

Chronic Youth takes place online until Thursday 3 June.

Barbican Young Film Programmers is supported through your donations. Learn more about this, and our other schemes for young people, at

Oscar nominations: a step forward for representation  

Cinema Curator Sonia Zadurian says the Academy Award nominations are a watershed moment

Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman

For the second year in a row, all 20 Academy Award acting category nominations in January 2016 went to white performers. The Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite – created the year before – resurfaced and the atmosphere reached boiling-point. As writer/director Ava DuVernay noted, ‘It was a catalyst for a conversation about what had really been a decades-long absence of diversity and inclusion’.

There is still progress to be made, but this year’s nominations certainly give us reason to believe that times are changing.

In the 93-year history of the Academy Awards, only five women have ever been nominated in the Best Director category and only one has ever taken home the prize: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010. This year, for the first time ever, two of the five nominees are women: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman. These are powerful films, and while they differ greatly in their approach, they’re both extremely significant.

Nomadland takes place a few years after the Great Recession and follows Fern (Frances McDormand), who lives in her van and travels across the US taking seasonal work and meeting all manner of interesting folks along the way. With great loss in her past, Fern rejects conventional ideas of fixed living in favour of freedom, independence and the open road. This is reflected in Zhao’s fluid, relaxed camerawork; we observe Fern and the natural landscape with the same quiet distance. The outcome is a beautiful, raw exploration of grief, as well as the joy that can be found when living authentically.

Promising Young Woman is a blistering, post #MeToo take-down; all wrapped in a colourful, sparkling wrapper with a syrupy sweet pop-soundtrack. Carey Mulligan stars as Cassandra, a woman who prowls bars pretending to be drunk. Each time, a ‘nice guy’ approaches and attempts to assault her, she serves them a lesson they will never forget. Fennell brings consent and violence against women into mainstream cinema like never before; first by presenting a hugely entertaining spoonful of sugar in the form of Cassandra’s nightly escapes, before gradually introducing her painful past, followed by the medicine of a potential reckoning. It’s incredibly refreshing to see such complex female characters on display in films written and directed by women.

After the backlash in 2016, an emergency meeting was called in which Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the board of governors approved targets for a membership initiative which aimed to double the number of women and ethnically underrepresented members within four years. This goal was surpassed and it would seem we can now view one of the outcomes of this endeavour in the 2021 nominations. This year has seen six black actors and actresses nominated, equalling the record set in 2017. The acting categories also present some historic firsts: with four nominations, Viola Davis is now the most nominated black actress in history, while Yuh-jung Youn is the first South Korean actress to be nominated for her role in Minari. The film follows a Korean family in 1980s Arkansas as they attempt to build a farm. It taps into the traditional immigrant experience of a couple coming to a new country with very little and working hard to build an easier life for their children. Steven Yeun, Yeri Han and Youn given brilliantly crafted, understated performances as the trouble husband and wife, and grandmother, while eight-year-old Alan S Kim is infinitely watchable as their precocious young son. The film is beautifully shot, with a finely tuned script that follows the family’s difficult journey in an authentic way whilst never allowing us to forget the sweetness and joy that can arise from the deep bonds of family.   

Another first comes in the Best Film category, as Judas and the Black Messiah is the first Best Picture nominee to have an all-black line-up of producers. LaKeith Stanfield plays Bill O’Neal, an FBI informant recruited to infiltrate the Black Panthers and report back on the activities of Party Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Based on a true story, Stanfield and Kaluuya portray their real-life counterparts with a nuance that reflects the writing and direction. A lesser film would portray O’Neal as a wholly unsympathetic character, but Judas refuses to simplify and presents his allegiances for much of the film as ambiguous. The direction, editing and score are also unexpected; particularly early in the film, at times feeling experimental in their approach. It’s entirely fitting that a film which defies expectation in so many ways should mark such a historic first in its category.

Riz Ahmed is the first actor of Pakistani descent to be nominated and the first Muslim to be up for Best Actor, for Sound of Metal. Ahmed plays Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer whose life and career are thrown into turmoil when he begins to lose his hearing. After spending time in a community of deaf recovering addicts, Ruben forms connections and begins to open himself to the idea of a full life in which his loss of hearing isn’t something to be overcome. However, his obsession with obtaining the funds to procure an implant soon challenges this notion and begins to jeopardise his future. Ahmed is completely transformed and totally convincing as Ruben. Not only did he learn to play the drums, but he also immersed himself in deaf culture and worked with a deaf advocate to learn American Sign Language. The central idea of the film is one which rejects ableist notions of disability and focuses instead on the rich lives led by disabled people – a rarity in mainstream cinema. Though there’s still an alarming lack of disabled actors being hired or recognised for their work, it’s wonderful to see a film like Sound of Metal recognised on such a global stage.

There is still a way to go on representation, and action to be taken at every level of the industry to redress this. However, the 2021 nominations are a positive shift which should certainly give us hope for the future.

Members enjoy free access to many of the films on Cinema on Demand and save 20% on the rest of the programme. See what’s on and start watching our curated selection of films for free today.

Minari is currently available to stream on Barbican Cinema on Demand. Nomadland and Sound of Metal will be screening at the Barbican from 17 May.

Watch The Best Live Action Short nominees and get exclusive access to The Best Animated Short nominees on Barbican Cinema on Demand now. 

Introducing Jean Dubuffet

A key figure in postwar modern art, Dubuffet tried to capture the poetry of everyday life in a gritty, more authentic way. Camille Houzé looks back through his life, works and legacy.

Dubuffet aged four, Le Havre, 1905 © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Dubuffet aged four, Le Havre, 1905 © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Jean Dubuffet aged 18 or 19, c. 1919–20 © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Jean Dubuffet aged 18 or 19, c. 1919–20 © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Dubuffet during his military service playing with Jeanne Léger’s monkey, Fontenay-aux-Roses, 1924 © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Dubuffet during his military service playing with Jeanne Léger’s monkey, Fontenay-aux-Roses, 1924 © Archives Fondation Dubuffet, Paris

Jean Dubuffet was born on 31 July 1901 in the city of Le Havre, France. The elder son of a wealthy family of wine merchants, he grew up under the watchful eye of his authoritative father, Georges, who expected him to excel at school. The young Dubuffet found solace in the family’s extensive library, stealing books and reading them at night by torchlight. His passion for reading was overtaken at the age of seven, when he saw a woman painting landscapes by the roadside. He started making little paintings in secret which he hid in a briefcase and then destroyed – ‘fearful of being deceived by the admiration I had for them’.

Dubuffet’s imagination became a source of escape and he started collecting unusual objects and materials such as fossils, beetles, cassava roots and sandalwood, which he displayed in his ‘museum’ – a wardrobe he had converted for this purpose.

At school, Dubuffet met the future Surrealist writer Georges Limbour, who would become his closest friend and the first critic of his work. Excelling in his classes, Dubuffet developed an interest in philosophy and literature, reading the works of Schopenhauer, Dostoevsky and Baudelaire. His true love, however, remained the visual arts and, in 1916, he started taking night classes in drawing and painting at the School of Fine Arts in Le Havre, which cemented his desire to become a professional artist. Two years later, after protracted negotiations with his sceptical father, Dubuffet enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris.

Dubuffet and Limbour rented a room in the bohemian Latin Quarter of Paris but he became quickly disenchanted with the teaching at the Academy – which he deemed pretentious and superficial – and decided to leave after six months.

‘It didn’t take me long to realize that no education was provided in this academy … We were chasing girls, wearing black hats and our hair long … badges of artistic honour. After a few months, this spirit changed. Influenced by exhibitions of avant-garde paintings and modernist writings, I became convinced that artistic creation had to be anchored in everyday life – the black hat was replaced by a populist cap.’

This criticism foreshadowed a lifelong revolution against established academic traditions and made him realize that he would do better to create his own syllabus of favourite subjects, which included philosophy, literature and ethnography. While toying with the idea of becoming a writer, he stayed connected to the art world, and befriended a group of older artists including the painter Suzanne Valadon and the poet Max Jacob. He and Limbour would also visit the studio of artist André Masson, whose practice inspired Dubuffet to begin a new series of paintings. However, these were soon halted when, in 1923, he ‘reluctantly’ carried out his military service.

Spring into sustainable living

Discover our range of eco-friendly and ethically-sourced products to help you lead a more sustainable life – all available in our Shop.

Bamboo snack boxes

This bamboo fibre snack box in cool block colours is an eco-friendly, reusable alternative for eating on the go and is ideal for storing snacks or small meals.

Haps Nordic Sandwich Bags

The Haps Nordic sandwich bag is designed to hold your sandwich, fruits or bread for lunch, as a sustainable alternative to foil, plastic boxes and onetime use plastic bags. It is coated inside with a natural, non-toxic coating to avoid liquid to run through. Machine washable at 30 degrees.

Haps Nordic Cotton Beeswax Wraps

They are breathable, plastic-free, and all-natural. The warmth of your hands helps mould the wraps. It's easy to wrap it around your food or bowl, and it will create a seal that keeps the food fresh for a long time. Instead of using cling film or tinfoil, you can reuse our cotton wraps again and again by gently washing them with cold water and mild dishwashing soap. Hang to dry or tap dry with a tea towel.

Stone Claro Storage Jars by EKOBO

Ideal for tea and spices or organising bits and bobs in the office or bathroom, these jars are made by EKOBO, the family-based eco-lifestyle brand passionate about creating sustainable products that are stylish as well as practical.

Members get 20% discount on items in our Shop, among many other benefits.

Bamboo snack boxes

Bamboo snack boxes

Haps Nordic Cotton Beeswax Wraps

Haps Nordic Cotton Beeswax Wraps

Haps Nordic Sandwich Bags

Haps Nordic Sandwich Bags

Stone Claro Storage Jars by EKOBO

Stone Claro Storage Jars by EKOBO

The Hall

The Hall

Music Library Display Area

Music Library Display Area

My Barbican: Richard Jones, Music Librarian

The Barbican Music Library is one of the hidden gems in the Centre. Librarian Richard Jones shares some of his favourite places.

The Hall

The Barbican contains many impressive venues, but my top choice would have to be the Hall in which I have been privileged to witness wonderful and thrilling music-making from some of the world’s greatest performers. I like the combination of the wall's timber linings and the fluted wooden panels of the stage, which create a harmonious blend of tones and textures and give the space a warm and intimate ambience. I always experience a sense of excitement when I enter the auditorium…

Music Library Display Area

Another of my favourite places is the display area within Barbican Music Library. There can't be many public libraries in which Tangerine Dream’s synthesisers, Jill Furmanovsky’s photographs, and some of Sir Simon Rattle’s awards have been on display! Not forgetting, of course, that there is an extensive selection of books, scores, CDs and DVDs which are available for loan! [Should this read: "…is available for loan?] As well as the Music Library, Barbican Library also includes a large adult lending library and Barbican Children’s Library.

Lakeside Terrace

On a sunny day, I love to visit the Lakeside Terrace early in the morning before the arrival of the crowds. I am always struck by the rich architectural heritage of the area: across the lake stands the historic parish church of St. Giles’ Cripplegate, hidden behind which is a section of London Wall’s medieval stonework built on Roman foundations. If you turn around, you are greeted by the modernist splendour of the Barbican Centre!

With thanks

The City of London Corporation,
founder and principal funder

Centre Partner
Christie Digital

Major Supporters
Arts Council England
Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation
Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement
The National Lottery Heritage Fund
Terra Foundation for American Art
SHM Foundation

Corporate Supporters
Aberdeen Standard Investments
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Bank of America
Bottega Veneta
Derwent London
DLA Piper
Howden M&A Limited
Leigh Day
Linklaters LLP
Morrison & Foerster
Natrium Capital Limited
Pinsent Masons
SEC Newgate UK
Slaughter and May
Taittinger Champagne

Trusts & Grantmakers
Andor Charitable Trust
Art Fund
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch)
Cockayne – Grants for the Arts
The London Community Foundation
Creative Europe Programme for the European Union
Edge Foundation
Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Europa Cinema
Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF)
The Henry Moore Foundation
The Mactaggart Third Fund
The Nugee Foundation
Tom ap Rhys Pryce Memorial Trust

We also want to thank Barbican Patrons, donors to Name a Seat, Members, and everyone who has supported the Barbican by making a donation.

Barbican Cinema has been supported by the Culture Recovery Fund for Independent Cinemas in England which is administered by the BFI, as part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund supporting arts and cultural organisations in England affected by the impact of COVID-19.

To find out more, visit or email [email protected]

The Barbican Centre Trust, registered charity no. 294282