Barbican Guide:
May 2020

Cover photograph © Harry Cory Wright. First reproduced in Barbican Centre (Pocket Photo Books series) by Harry Cory Wright, published by Thames & Hudson in 2019.

Cover photograph © Harry Cory Wright. First reproduced in Barbican Centre (Pocket Photo Books series) by Harry Cory Wright, published by Thames & Hudson in 2019.

A message from our Managing Director

Welcome to our May Guide. As you know, we're currently closed because of government health advice around Covid-19. But we're still very active, and we hope that this online guide gives you a connection to the outstanding artists with whom we've been working and will hope to work with again once we're able to reopen. Sadly, there are events that can’t happen right now, but we’re planning a compelling offer for all our audiences when it’s safe to do so, and in the meantime we’ll keep in touch through our website with information and digital activity.

These are difficult times for everyone and we’re keen to provide our artists with platforms like this where we can. However, we’re in completely new territory, which presents a real financial challenge for us and the organisations we work with. So, if you’re able, please consider donating to us so we can keep investing in the artists and organisations that help make this place what it is. We look forward to welcoming you back as soon as possible.

Heartfelt thanks,

Nick Kenyon

Pecs and gender

Alongside the humour and entertainment, drag king group Pecs’ shows often make opportunities to talk about difficult subjects, says producer Daisy Hale.

Image by Harry Elletson

Image by Harry Elletson

Our exhibition Masculinities: Liberation through Photography explores how photographers and filmmakers have charted the ways masculinity has been performed and socially constructed from the 1960s to today. Drag king company Pecs, who were due to perform at the exhibition before the coronavirus pandemic, have their own novel take on the topic. Hale says: ‘The way I’ve heard people in the group describe what we do is “gender clowning”. It’s performative of gender and how that’s perceived by all of us.’

Delving into gender roles, traditional notions of what it means to be a man in different societies, and photographers’ disruption of those ideas are key elements of our exhibition, which features work by more than 50 international artists.

Pecs also explore what masculinity means. The all-female/non-binary theatre and cabaret company have been creating critically-acclaimed shows since 2013, examining gender identities, politics and sexuality. Their ‘sexy, raucous and highly entertaining’ productions at venues such as The Glory, Latitude Festivals and Soho Theatre, use songs, dances and comedy to celebrate inclusivity, queerness and community.

Watch an interview with drag kings John Travulva, Cesar Jentley and Mr. Goldenballs on PinkNews

Hale says: ‘For us, masculinity is no one set thing and it can be performed in lots of different ways. We often find that through our shows cis men notice the way they perform masculinity in their own lives. Drag kings create an access point to interrogate that subject by doing something entertaining. There’s comedy, but there are also ways in for people to have a conversation about a difficult topic. That’s the thing I love the most about our group – the way we explore masculinity in its lightest and darkest forms. Entertainment is the best way to get a person to talk about it.’

They add: ‘We all perform gender. Some of it feels more comfortable to us than others. Gender is something that’s prescriptive and written by society rather than pre-determined traits, but that’s how you’re socialised from day dot. When you start to break away from that it can be very liberating. But when you see it performed to you, you realise things about yourself you’d not thought about before.’


What makes a 'real' man? In collaboration with online cultural video channel NOWNESS, we present a series of films exploring the themes in the exhibition. Discover what people such as non-binary designer Harris Reed, choreographer Ivan Blackstock, poet Julian Knox, and photographer and filmmaker Campbell Addy think about masculinity in this series. Available to watch on our YouTube channel.

Masculinities: Liberation through Photography is sponsored by CALVIN KLEIN

A perception of propaganda

Music can alter how we understand the world around us, says Shabaka Hutchings, leading light of the London jazz scene.

Shabaka Hutchings. Photo: Pierrick Guidou

Shabaka Hutchings. Photo: Pierrick Guidou

Propaganda is often a dirty word. So frequently tied up with nefarious political means, it has acquired an interpretation that is shorthand for misinformation. But Shabaka Hutchings – a central figure of the exciting current wave of British jazz, and members of bands The Comet is Coming, Shabaka & the Ancestors, and Sons of Kemet – has been thinking about it in a different way.

‘The definition I keep coming back to, that I’ve read a lot around, is it’s “a directed means of altering the lens by which large groups of people process the information that determines the parameters of their imaginative reality”,’ he says. ‘That can be used in an insidious way for political means, but you can also take the abstract idea of that and use it artistically to get people to consider what propaganda is; it makes people rethink what they perceive of as their reality, and that’s what I think about when it comes to music.

‘[Musicians are] not necessarily giving people an experience or information; we’re trying to help people to see the world differently.’

Hutchings was programming a weekend of music across our venues based on this theme before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

‘One of the unifying forces between all the artists that were due to be involved is they allow people to feel empathy – when you listen to them you feel like you’re getting close to someone and being disarmed emotionally,’ he says. ‘That’s one of the things in society today that needs the most work – emotional disarmament so people can feel more empathy.’


Change the way you see the world, expand your reality and alter your perception. Listen to our Spotify playlist, inspired by Shabaka Hutchings' Propoganda weekend.

Hutchings, who studied classical clarinet at Guildhall School of Music & Drama – with which the Barbican has a long-lasting and productive cultural partnership – was born in London, and moved to Birmingham aged two, before relocating to Barbados four years later, until he was sixteen. His blurring of musical boundaries between jazz, hip hop and electronic music have seen him attract fans worldwide (when we talk, he’s in Mexico City). As he’s said before: ‘My core vocabulary is jazz, but I’m not trying to have the energy of someone in a suit standing stationary in front of a microphone giving a nice round sound, I’m trying to just spit out fire.’

Among the artists he’d chosen is South African Xhosa singer and traditional master bow and harp player, Mantombi Matotiyana, in what was due to be her first London appearance; Ghanaian hiplife musician King Ayisoba; Algerian raï singer Sofiane Saidi; and electronic producer Ammar 808 from Tunisia.

‘One of the things I wanted to do was emphasise that in gathering information and changing the way we see society around us we can’t just have a Western focus, because the world is not like that,’ says Hutchings. ‘I’m trying to say that whatever results we come to, whatever message we decide to employ or articulate, we need to look outside of the European gaze.’


As part of our Barbican Sessions series, Shabaka Hutchings performs an improvised piece on bass clarinet in St Giles Cripplegate.

Provocative theatre

Rehearsing in secret under threat of arrest is all part of a day’s work for one of the world’s bravest theatre companies.

Belarus Free Theatre, Dogs of Europe © Kolya Kuprich

Belarus Free Theatre, Dogs of Europe © Kolya Kuprich

How do you make theatre when you’re in exile, under threat of prosecution? As the founders of Belarus Free Theatre make preparations for their new show Dogs of Europe, which was due to premiere at the Barbican in May, they tell us that the rise of extremism in politics across the continent means we’re in graver danger of the perils of dictatorship than we think.

Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada are political refugees based in London while the actors remain in Belarus, so the company has to rehearse in secret by Skype. Under the country’s current political system, the group has no official registration or premises, and faces arrest at any time.

With a reputation for innovative productions focused on human rights issues, Belarus Free Theatre has won fans worldwide including playwrights Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter.

Khalezin reveals the company bought the rights to Dogs of Europe without having read a word of the book. ‘It was a crazy moment,’ he laughs. ‘It was suggested to us by an editor friend who had read an early draft and said it was one of the best books he’d read in 30 years. So on his recommendation, we asked the author for the manuscript and he sent it to us, and we asked if we could adapt it for the stage.’

The story is set in 2049, and sees a man set out on a quest following a murder investigation. It brings him to former Belarus and Russia, which are now a single European territory ruled by an all-seeing secret service. However, his journey becomes less about the origins of the regime, and more a revelation about his own role in its creation.

‘Our task is for the British audience to understand the pain of dictatorship,’ says Kaliada. ‘We had it in Belarus for 25 years, but British people are yet to experience it – and it’s not a comfortable feeling.

‘The question at the heart of this production asks if we are ready to resist the transformation that’s happening across the Western world.’


In this episode of Nothing Concrete, Chris Gunness joins underground political theatre company, Belarus Free Theatre, in rehearsal to speak to Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin to hear more about creating theatre in exile.

Subscribe to Nothing Concrete on Acast, Spotify, iTunes or wherever you find your podcasts.

Prints to impress

Looking for something to do on lockdown? We’ve got you covered.

A print made by Billy Mann

A print made by Billy Mann

The coronavirus pandemic means many of us are looking for creative ways to spend our time indoors.

Thanks to a spot of practical thinking, we’ve got an activity that’s easy to do and requires very few materials. And it all came about because of an event that was facing cancellation.

Our community partner Headway East London, which supports people with brain injuries, was due to host a printing workshop in May run by Billy Mann. But with the Barbican temporarily shut, the experience can’t take place.

Mann, a former music journalist and production editor at the Guardian, became a Headway member in 2013 after he had a stroke. He’s one of about 40 artists regularly creating work at the charity’s art studios in Hackney, and says he was initially drawn there ‘because they were playing some good pure groove music from the 80s’. After being encouraged to pick up a paintbrush, it quickly became his favourite place to hang out.

Billy Mann making prints

Billy Mann making prints

‘One day we were taught how to do monoprinting,’ he says. ‘I loved doing it. But I wanted to simplify the process so anyone could do it. The method I’ve developed uses wax crayons instead of ink, masking tape and a ballpoint pen, and you can use any old paper or card.’

He’s dubbed the new technique ‘cut price printing’ because there’s no need to go to art shops for the materials – they can be found cheaply and almost everywhere.

Mann was due to run ‘cut price printing’ workshops based on our exhibition Masculinities: Liberation through Photography. Undeterred, Mann, the Headway East London team and Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning are running the workshops online for you to enjoy at home instead.

A print made by Billy Mann

A print made by Billy Mann

Create your own Cut Price Portraits

Join Billy Mann as he leads us through a quick, 'cut-price' printing workshop inspired by Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography. All you need to take part is:

  • A handful of crayons
  • Some plain white paper
  • Any image to trace over

Big screen to small screen

Missing your Barbican big screen fix? Our Cinema Curator Alex Davidson rounds up how the film industry is responding to the coronavirus pandemic, while colleagues Sonia Zadurian and Tamara Anderson share some of their favourite films for you to watch at home.

Still from Hi Stranger (Kirsten Lepore, 2017)

Still from Hi Stranger (Kirsten Lepore, 2017)

As arts centres and cinemas are closed across the country due to social distancing measures, film distributors are radically changing their business models, with many movies now available through on demand services.

The first significant film schedule change came when Universal decided to push back the release date of the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, from spring to November with other studios quickly following suit. But many foreign language and independent films have had their releases brought forward, premiering online. The Most Watched Films list on Curzon Home Cinema is dominated by new independent films that were about to be released when cinemas across the UK closed. Titles such as The Truth, The Perfect Candidate, Fire Will Come and System Crasher, all scheduled to screen at the Barbican, are now enjoying great viewing figures online.

Cancelled film festivals, such as BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, have been quick to offer reduced programmes online – a highlight for me was watching Sam Feder’s documentary Disclosure on BFI Player. This superb film explores representations of trans people on film since the birth of cinema and although it was great to watch online, I hope it will be shown in cinemas in the future.

Nothing can replace the thrill of seeing films on the big screen and when the time is right, we look forward to welcoming you back to experience great films in our cinema. In the meantime, we have selected some of our favourite films – old and new and available online – with more to come, for you to enjoy at home.

Daunting steps

Tackling one of Bach’s most famous works took choreographer Pam Tanowitz out of her comfort zone.

Pam Tanowitz © Marina Levitskaya

Pam Tanowitz © Marina Levitskaya

A cornerstone of the Western music tradition, JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations is familiar to many, but its intricacies mean it is also a source of endless fascination for music scholars. So Tanowitz admits to having been ‘daunted’ by the prospect of creating a new work based on the music.

The idea first came about when pianist Simone Dinnerstein approached Tanowitz after seeing one of her productions, and said she wanted to collaborate.

‘Usually when a choreographer works with a musician it’s on a new piece of music,’ says Tanowitz. ‘But she said “I can play this, or this, or the Goldberg Variations”, and I said “we’re absolutely not doing the Goldberg Variations.” I was too frightened. But then I remembered Jerome Robbins’ had made a ballet for it in 1971. When I’m inspired by any of the great choreographers I feel like I’m not alone, it’s like I have them with me. All my career I’ve been using and been inspired by dance history, so remembering that Robbins had done this was exciting but scary for me.’

The performance premiered in New York in October 2017 and was due for its European debut here in May until the Barbican had to close due to the UK Government advice on coronavirus. It sees Dinnerstein at the centre of the action, and she’s been an integral part of the work from the outset – present during rehearsals, and contributing to the shaping of the choreography.

‘The music is so important, that’s why the piano is in the centre of the stage,’ says Tanowitz, ‘but I found it a challenge to figure out how to make the interesting, without it looking like people dancing around a piano. So I worked with lighting designer Davison Scandrett to ensure the lighting plays a big role because it helps define the spaces we can carve out around the piano.’

Tanowitz reveals the production was quite a change for Simone too. ‘She said she’s used to performing alone, and the sound of feet on the floor was quite distracting. But she and the dancers have a really nice, genuine relationship now and you can see that – it’s not forced.’


Find out more about how Tanowitz and Dinnerstein worked together on this new piece:

My Barbican:
Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy

The Boy Blue co-founder tells us about his favourite spots around the Centre.

I’ve nicknamed this restaurant ‘squeaky cheese’ because they have a halloumi burger that I love. Every time we have a lunch meeting I always persuade everyone to go here so I can eat it – I’m a massive fan.

Frobisher Hub
This is an area of the Centre that’s often used for meetings and conferences. But if you go there when nothing’s on, no-one else is there, meaning it’s so quiet – it’s like 28 Days Later sometimes. I find it really calming so I head there when I need some quiet time – it’s a lovely space.

Side of Stage
To me, this is a place full of memories, especially when I’m about to go on stage. It’s like a moment of imminent immersion – I feel like I’m stood on the edge of a swimming pool about to dive in and totally submerge myself in whatever’s happening. Often, when I’m stood on the side of the stage about to perform, I get memories of other shows I’ve been in over the last 10 years that we’ve been a Barbican Artistic Associate.

Enjoying a beer on the terrace at Bonfire. Credit: James Deavin

Enjoying a beer on the terrace at Bonfire. Credit: James Deavin

View from the side of the Barbican stage.

View from the side of the Barbican stage.

New perspectives

Aleksandra Pawlikowska shared this stunning photo of the conservatory on Instagram. ‘I took this photo outside because the botanical garden was closed,’ they say. ‘I thought the photo was interesting and artistic. I love art, modern, industrial and brutalism architecture is my passion.’

We love seeing your photos of the Barbican. Tag your photos on Instagram with @barbicancentre #igbarbican and you might see one of your shots featured in a future Guide.

Support the Barbican

We rely on ticket sales and your enduring support and generosity to be able to present and share our programme with you and thousands of others. We’re all finding ourselves in completely new territory, which presents a real financial challenge for us and for those we work with. So, if you’re able, please consider donating to us so we can keep investing in the artists and organisations that help make this place what it is. Please also consider donating to our artistic residents and associates to support them through these difficult times.

What's On

We're looking forward to the day when we can open our doors and welcome you all back to the Barbican. We are currently closed until 30 June 2020 but you can see what's coming up later in the year on our website.

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 Settlementt; The National Lottery Heritage Fund; Terra Foundation for American Arr; UBS; Wellcome

Corporate Supporters
Aberdeen Standard Investments; Allford Hall Monaghan Morris; Audible; Bank of America; Bloomberg; Calvin Klein; CMS; DLA Piper; Howden M&A Limited; Leigh Day; Linklaters LLP; National Australia Bank; Natrium Capital Limited; Newgate Communications; Pinsent Masons; Reed Smith; Slaughter and May; Taittinger Champagne; UBS

Trusts & Grantmakers
29th May 1961 Charitable Trust; Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from the Art Fund

We also want to thank the Barbican Patrons, donors to Name a Seat and those who contribute to the Barbican Fund.

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

The Barbican Centre Trust, registered charity no. 294282