Follow Us on Twitter

South Africa: the art of a nation - British Museum

Exhibition preview

FROM October 27, 2016 to February 26, 2017, the British Museum will host the first major UK exhibition on South African art that explores a 100,000 history through archaeological, historic and contemporary artworks, which look at the long and rich artistic heritage of the country.

South Africa: the art of a nation is sponsored by Jack and Betsy Ryan and will use art to tell the story of the region’s deep history, the colonial period, apartheid, the birth of the ‘rainbow nation’ and South Africa today.

Objects from the British Museum’s own South African collections will be displayed alongside contemporary acquisitions. There will also be significant loans in the exhibition, including objects coming to the UK for the very first time, thanks to the exhibition’s logistics partner IAG Cargo.

The exhibition will shed light on the varied artistic achievements of South Africa with around 200 objects arranged chronologically across seven key episodes from the country’s history, from ancient history to the present day. Each section is illustrated with artworks by contemporary artists that provide new perspectives regarding South Africa’s past.

One example of this approach is a new acquisition that the British Museum has made to its permanent collection for this exhibition, Karel Nel’s ‘Potent fields’ (2002).

Nel created ‘Potent Fields’, with its two planes of red and white ochre, in the same year as the discovery of the approximately 75,000 year old cross-hatched ochre at Blombos Cave in the Western Cape. This discovery repositioned southern Africa, not Europe, as one of the earliest sites of artistic thought and creation. The tension in the piece between white and coloured planes echoes the colour divide of apartheid.

Nel collected the ochre in Nelson Mandela’s ancestral lands in the Eastern Cape, and so the artwork also acknowledges the balance that Mandela dedicated his life trying to create among all people in post-apartheid South Africa.

One of the most significant loans is the gold treasures of Mapungubwe, four of which are leaving South Africa for the very first time. From AD 1220 to 1290 Mapungubwe was the capital of the first kingdom in southern Africa. These gold figures, discovered in three royal graves there, are among the most significant sculptures in Africa today.

They depict animals of high status – a cow, a wild cat and a rhinoceros, and objects associated with power – a sceptre and a bowl or crown. The only one of the Mapungubwe treasures to have travelled to the UK before is a gold bowl which underwent conservation work at the British Museum. The golden rhino is now the symbol of the Order of Mapungubwe, South Africa’s highest honour that was first presented in 2002 to Nelson Mandela.

The gold treasures of Mapungubwe are evidence of new developments in artistic production at the start of the second millennium around the time of the creation of the first southern African kingdoms, as society shifted towards more hierarchical styles of rule. These archaeological artworks are important in contemporary South Africa for many reasons, not least because they are evidence that complex societies existed in the region immediately prior to the arrival of European settlers.

This history was hidden during the apartheid era when the colonial concept of ‘terra nullius’, the myth of an empty land, was used to legitimise white rule. In the exhibition, gold treasures of Mapungubwe will be displayed alongside a modern artwork by Penny Siopis and a sculpture by Owen Ndou that encourage the viewer to challenge the historic assumptions of the colonial and apartheid eras.

The British Museum has been collecting contemporary African art for over 20 years, and this exhibition presents an opportunity to showcase some of the pieces acquired from South African artists. A recent acquisition to the British Museum’s permanent collection is a stunning two metre wide textile ‘The Creation of the Sun’ (2015), a collaborative piece from Bethesda Arts Centre in South Africa.

The artists at the centre are descendants of South Africa’s first peoples, San|Bushmen and Khoekhoen who have been inspired by archival recordings of their ancestors’ beliefs to produce contemporary representations of their founding stories, such as the creation of the sun.

South Africa has a dynamic contemporary art scene with a rapidly growing global reputation. A variety of contemporary works are coming on loan to the British Museum from a self-portrait by Lionel Davis’ to video featuring Candice Breitz, and a 3D installation by Mary Sibande. These pieces conclude a show punctuated throughout with pieces by artists including Willie Bester, William Kentridge and Santu Mofokeng.

This exhibition will open the eyes of visitors to the long and diverse history of South African art. Through the exploration of key episodes and objects from throughout the country’s history, it will reveal unique insights into South Africa today.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said: “South Africa: the art of a nation is a chance to explore the long and diverse history of South African art and challenge audience preconceptions in the way our visitors have come to expect from a British Museum exhibition. Temporary exhibitions of this nature are only possible thanks to external support so I am hugely thankful to Betsy and Jack Ryan’s continuing commitment to sponsoring projects at the British Museum.

“I would also like to express my gratitude to our Logistics partner IAG Cargo who are safely transporting incredible loans that will allow audiences in London to see the unique and powerful stories these objects can tell.”

Image: Jeni Couzyn (artistic director), Sandra Sweers (lead artist), The Creation of the Sun, a collaborative piece from Bethesda Arts Centre, textile, 2015. Photo © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Celebrate Freddie Mercury's 70th birthday with Hard Rock Cafe London and raise money for The Mercury Phoenix Trust

Event preview

STAFF at Hard Rock Cafe London will be dusting down their catsuits and donning fake moustaches to become Freddie For A Day on Monday, September 5, 2016, to raise funds and awareness for the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the fight against AIDS and HIV.

Freddie For A Day, now in its sixth year, is a fundraising initiative of the Mercury Phoenix Trust, which encourages friends and fans around the world to spend the day dressed as Freddie Mercury on what would have been the music legend’s 70th birthday.

Director of European Marketing for Hard Rock International Marc Carey, said: “Hard Rock International is delighted to work alongside Queen and The Mercury Phoenix Trust on their annual Freddie For A Day.

“Hard Rock has long been associated with the rock legends and their charity, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through the sale of a Queen Signature Series T-Shirt and even setting up a ‘mobile’ restaurant backstage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in ’92. Each cafe throughout Europe will be encouraging local Freddie fans to visit dressed up as the icon and to help raise funds for this great cause.”

For one day only customers and staff at Hard Rock Cafe London are invited to join in on a day full of Queen music, moustaches, and Freddie costumes. The evening will come alive from 6pm-11pm, with an incredible live band performing a selection of Queen songs, along with a few other surprises. Guests will also be able to tuck in to an exclusive, mouth-watering Freddie-inspired menu and a special themed Freddie cocktail.

With entry at just £7 for fan club members, including a moustache and raffle entry, and £10 for non-fan club members, and with all ticket proceeds contributing to the Mercury Pheonix Trust, you won’t want to miss out on an evening of Queen inspired fun. Freddie pins will also be available on the night at just £8.95, and with only 300 available, you’ll have to snap them up quick before they’re gone! With all this to come on the night, there’s no better place to celebrate the icon’s 70th birthday.

Claudia Walker of the Mercury Phoenix Trust said: “Freddie For A Day is a global AIDS fundraising and awareness campaign, enabling fans around the world to help the Trust in its work and have fun whilst doing so. Our partnership with the Hard Rock Cafe will further raise the profile of Freddie For A Day as we join forces in many cities to celebrate Freddie’s life and help those less fortunate to fight this terrible disease which ended his life.”

Emma Donoghue from the Trust added: “What started out as a quick chat over a cup of coffee, turned into this phenomenal working relationship we now have with Hard Rock Cafe – the teams from both Universal Music and Hard Rock have really captured Freddie’s legacy and are throwing some incredible events during the first week of September, culminating on the 5th of September – which would have been Freddie’s 70th birthday! So get your Freddie’s Ready and let’s raise some serious money for The Mercury Phoenix Trust!”

Hard Rock Cafe London, 150 Old Park Lane, London, W1K 1QZ

Teen Spirit - Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen

Image by Dave Swindells

Exhibition preview

A PHOTOGRAPHY exhibition capturing seminal live gig experiences, Teen Spirit, will be on display at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen from August 28 to November 30, 2016.

Co-curated by YOUTH CLUB and Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, the exhibition features photographers including David Swindells and Dean Chalkley and is a nod to the personal stories and profound moments that helped us find our first ‘tribe’, going on to shape our adult identities and creative vision.

From seeing your favourite band for the first time, to bravely embracing the chaos of the mosh pit, this collection of photographs from the 90’s and 00’s recognises the sense of belonging and friendships that are forged in this vital rite of passage.

Amidst a sea of online music discovery, Teen Spirit highlights the importance of nurturing gig culture and the essential roles of venues and festivals across the country in this process. A world where your brand new footwear comes home covered in gig scum and you enter your scene for the first time. And the feeling that nothing will ever be the same again…

The exhibition opens as part of A Summer Affair, Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen’s Bank Holiday celebration of independent music and culture.

There will be a panel talk with the photographers on Wednesday, September 7 (free with sign up via the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen website).

Image: David Swindells.

Exhibition link

Tribal Art London 2016 - Mall Galleries

Event preview

THE UK’s leading art fair devoted to antique tribal and ethnographic art, Tribal Art London, returns to the Mall Galleries from September 1 to September 4, 2016.

From Peru to the South Pacific, and from Africa to Asia, world art of all periods, from the ancient to the contemporary, is unveiled at this exciting and unique art event.

Tribal Art London is the UK’s only art fair devoted exclusively to selling fine and original purpose works of art, from 22 international specialists in non-Western Art.

Works range from dance masks to metalwork, textiles to tribal adornment, early photography to contemporary paintings, and at prices from under £100 to over £20,000.

Highlights in 2016 include:

A remarkable Peruvian tapestry surviving from the middle centuries of the first millennia, woven from alpaca wool and cotton, made by the people of the Chimu culture of Lambayeque, on the Northern coast of Peru. It’s pictorial design shows a fish trap. (£9,500 offered by Kapil Jariwala).

A contemporary work interpreting the Songlines traced by women making their way to the important Western Desert Ancestral site of Munni Munni by one of Australia’s brightest young indigenous artists, Marlene Young Nungurrayi, born 1971 (i.r.o. £7000 from new exhibitor Arjmand Aziz, a specialist in Australian indigenous art).

A rare sleeping mat depicting trains, carriages and people woven by the Yombe, Democratic Republic of Congo. From the late 19th century to the 1930s the country’s main railway was built through the Yombe’s traditional homeland in South Western DRC and had a great effect on their culture; there were manifold technical problems and a resulting loss of many lives. (£4,500 offered by new exhibitor Marcuson & Hall).

An important early 19th century Tongan club, the decoration of which includes human glyphs of warriors or chiefs, step motifs and incised patterns. Dating to circa 1800-1850 this rare item measures 120cms in length and is offered by new exhibitor Marcus Raccanello of Belgium priced in the region of £19,000. Pieces from the South Seas are highly sought-after by collectors.

A powerfully abstract mbulu ngulu reliquary figure of the Kota people, Gabon, West Africa. These striking guardian figures protected the revered bones of family ancestors. Kota mbulu ngulu are unique among African sculptural forms in their combination of wood covered with hammered metal, in this instance copper. (£11,500 offered by David Malik).

An early hyena mask from Bambara, Mali, worn in initiation ceremonies, representing intelligence, vigilance, vitality and flair, and a thirst for knowledge. (£8500 offered by Bryan Reeves).

A 19th century Zulu wooden vessel carved from a single block of wood with no joins, half a metre tall. A feat of skill, and crafted almost certainly by a Zulu artist, either in Zululand or in the Colony of Natal, South Africa. The use of such vessels is still unclear. They may have been carved for sale to, or on commission from local chiefs or other powerful dignitaries but, perhaps more likely, they were carved for sale to colonists. Many found their way to Europe, especially Britain. One entered the Lille Museum as early as 1850. If they had an indigenous use, it would most likely to be to store snuff. (POA offered by Jeremy Sabine).

Mall Galleries, The Mall, London, SW1

Juliette Losq at Waterhouse & Dodd

Dark, ink and watercolour on paper, 2016.

Exhibition preview

THIS autumn, from October 18 to November 12, 2016, Waterhouse & Dodd will be showing Juliette Losq’s work for the first time.

In her recent work the artist has drawn subject matter from a number of borderlands around London. This includes a disused railway line that previously joined Finsbury Park and Highgate, the River Wandle in Wandsworth and the Feltham Circles.

Losq is interested in places that are neglected and environments bordering on the edge that are at the same time both enticing and slightly threatening to the viewer. The artist says her aim is to, “evoke an uncertain world hovering at the edges of a symbolic ‘clearing’, where wilderness and chaos oppose civilisation and order, and in which beauty and neglect are interchangeable.”

Losq is a landscape artist, but one for whom the landscape is almost a backdrop for man-made structures. Losq’s paintings can initially look like bucolic visions of the English countryside until the viewer notices abandoned buildings strewn with graffiti for example.

Yet the artist is not making a comment on man’s destruction of the natural environment. In fact, she is revelling in the unusual beauty these structures – and their brightly coloured graffiti – add to the vistas. In these environments, Losq places the viewer in worlds that border our city and where the wilderness of nature and urban life merge.

Although Losq uses a traditional medium, the washes, resists and painstakingly applied inks push watercolour to its limits and produce richly detailed paintings on paper. In addition, the exhibition will also include some of her larger works, which give a stage-set feel and allow the viewer to fully immerse themselves in her vision.

Sentinel, a sculptural collaboration with the furniture designer David Penrose, extends the idea of deriving beauty from the mundane as the furniture becomes functionless, decorated in pylon inspired motifs and supported on detailed foliage patterns which cascade to the ground.

Additional works in the show include the Dioramas series, which reference Victorian mobile theatre devices and paper cut outs. Here the viewer is invited to look into and through layers to seek out hidden images even when these are not present. Other influences include the Hudson River Group, Samuel Palmer and Picturesque and Gothic styles from the 18 and 19th Centuries.

Born in 1978, Losq initially studied History of Art at the University of Cambridge, before achieving her MA in 18C British & French Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2001. A few years later, she returned to education, enrolling at Wimbledon College of Art to spend three years studying painting and afterwards she went on to get her PG Dip in Fine Art from the Royal Academy schools, in London.

Losq has been selected for numerous awards and in 2005 she won the Jerwood Drawing prize. She was also selected for the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize in 2014, shown at the Walker gallery in Liverpool, where she was winner of the Visitors’ choice award.

The curator of the exhibition, Jamie Anderson, first came into contact with Losq’s work after seeing her painting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2006 and subsequently attended both her interim and final degree show at Wimbledon. Waterhouse & Dodd are now thrilled to be offering Juliette her first solo show at the gallery.

Anderson comments that, “In a sense, Juliette’s work is the perfect fit with our contemporary programme at Waterhouse & Dodd. Collectors of earlier paintings will find much to admire in her technique, particularly her handling of light and water. Contemporary collectors will, we hope, enjoy the edgier nature of the subject matter and the ambition displayed in the larger multi-layered works. It is particularly satisfying to work with Juliette having admired her work for so long.”

Times: Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 6pm and Saturday, 11am to 4pm (not open on Saturdays during the month of August or on Bank Holiday weekends).

Waterhouse & Dodd, 47 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4JW

French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet - British Museum

The British Museum

Exhibition preview

AN EXHIBITION entitled French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet will be on display at the British Museum (Room 90) from September 8, 2016 to January 29, 2017.

This exhibition will showcase the British Museum’s remarkable holdings of French portrait drawings, chosen to illustrate the development of this medium from the Renaissance until the 19th century.

Throughout its history, the drawn portrait has been primarily an informal medium, created for circulation among friends and relations of the sitter, rather than the wider public intended for official painted portraits. Artists often turned to chalk or watercolour to depict members of their own families, or to experiment with innovative concepts of portraiture.

Portraits on paper will be displayed alongside examples in other more formal media, including medals, enamels and an onyx cameo. The exhibition will offer visitors the chance to see some of the Museum’s well-known French portrait drawings alongside some that have never been exhibited before.

The exhibition will open with drawings by Francois Clouet, which offer an intimate picture of the 16th century French Renaissance court, and close with Toulouse Lautrec’s vivid portraits of the Parisian demi-monde.

Clouet’s drawn portraits of courtiers and the royal family were commissioned by the French queen Catherine de’Medici, and his portrait of Catherine herself will be on display for the first time. The exhibition also includes a drawing of Catherine’s husband Henri II, one of the first representations of Henri as king, which formed the basis of his royal iconography.

Other portraits made in chalk or watercolour in the 18th and 19th century offer a uniquely personal glimpse into artists’ personal lives. Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune used chalk to draw his infant daughter, in about 1772, creating a delightfully naturalistic record of childhood. The piece demonstrates how the drawn portrait allowed for a degree of familiarity and intimacy than that had been common in portrait paintings from the same period.

Another example of family portraiture is by the lesser known 19th-century artist Albert Lebourg, depicting his wife and mother in-law in smoky atmospheric black chalk. His velvety technique gives the impression of soft forms looming out of the darkness. The evocation of the candlelight and the unusual position of the sitters side by side shows the great intimacy that can be achieved through portrait drawing and experimentation with the medium.

Drawings were cheaper to produce than an oil painting or sculpture and allowed the artist greater freedom for creativity. Pierre Dumonstier made a playful ‘portrait’ of the artist Artemisia Gentileschi’s hand in 1625. This piece plays with the very notion of what a ‘portrait’ is, through focusing on the quality that makes a sitter unique – not Artemisia’s face, in this instance, but her hand, the source of her artistic brilliance.

Another example of artistic experimentation can be seen in Henri Fantin-Latour’s sheet of self-portrait studies from 1876. Here the artist shows himself, rather playfully, from behind – a portrait without a face.

Public programme: lectures and events

Curator’s Introduction: Clouet to Courbet: French Portrait Drawings – in Room 90 on Tuesday, October 25 from 1.15pm to 2pm. Free, just drop in.

A curator’s introduction by Sarah Vowles, British Museum.

Informality and Intimacy: French portrait drawings from the 16th to 18th Centuries – in Room 90 on Friday, November 25 from 1.30pm to 2.30pm. Free, just drop in.

A gallery talk by Sarah Vowles, British Museum.

Revolution and Reinvention: French portrait drawings of the 19th Century – on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 from 1.15pm to 2pm. Free, just drop in.

A gallery talk by Sarah Vowles, British Museum.

Admission to exhibition: Free.

Times: 10am to 5.30pm Saturday to Thursday and 10am to 8.30pm Fridays.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG


Tel: 020 7323 8181

Also at the British Museum: Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds (until November 27, 2016).

James Mylne: Grandly Grimey - Westbank Gallery

Exhibition preview

GRANDLY Grimey, James Mylne’s biggest solo exhibition to date, will be on display at the Westbank Gallery in Notting Hill from September 22 to September 29, 2016.

It will consist of entirely new works inspired by classical ideals of beauty and the rococo paintings of 18th Century French artists such as Watteau and Boucher.

Showcasing his trademark awe-­inspiring photo-­realistic ballpoint pen drawings, the show will feature classical and baroque subjects subtly and humorously subverted with contemporary details, taking them into a modern and urban setting, as illustrated by “Marie-­Anne Twist”, Mylne’s personal take on a traditional portrait of Marie-­Antoinette, complete with tattoos and dog collar.

A graduate of Camberwell College of Arts, James Mylne is a London-­‐based artist specialising in ballpoint drawing, mixed with spray paint and ink.

Hailed as a pioneer in his field, James Mylne has exhibited extensively and showed alongside the likes of Banksy, Damien Hirst and Peter Blake, while also collaborating with other artists such as photographers Terry O’Neil and Bill Wyman.

To watch a teaser trailer visit

Time: 10am to 6pm.

Westbank Gallery, 3-­‐5 Thorpe Close, London, W10 5XL

Giuseppe Penone to present new exhibitions in London and Paris this September

Work by Giuseppe Penone

Exhibition preview

MARIAN Goodman Gallery has announced two simultaneous exhibitions of works by Giuseppe Penone at the London and Paris galleries.

These new exhibitions bring together a selection of works related to the sense of touch and which take their form from specific gestures made by the artist’s hand.

Fui, Sarò, Non Sono (I was, I will be, I am not) runs at Marian Goodman Gallery London from September 8 to October 22, 2016, while Ebbi, Avrò, Non Ho (J’eus, J’aurai, Je n’ai) runs at Galerie Marian Goodman, Paris from September 9 to October 22, 2016.

Laurent Busine notes: “There is no gesture more intensely Giuseppe Penone’s than the fist: that is, the quantity that a hand can grasp, or that a hand can squeeze and crush, that a hand can hold and keep, or that a hand can stroke and caress.”

The works presented in both exhibitions (the titles of which refer to past, future and present) reveal that for Giuseppe Penone human gestures and tactile perceptions are connected to individuality and time: “A form without a human gesture is a collective present; with a gesture, it is an individual present.”

The London gallery presents works emblematic of Penone’s interest in the metaphysical relationship of his body to the living ecosystem. Installed on the lower gallery, Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto) (2004-2016) is a primary example that illustrates how central the contact between the body and its surrounding environment is to his practice.

In 1968, Penone attached a bronze cast of his hand to the trunk of a young tree. Six years later, he cast this tree in situ, and again at years eight and 12, recording the growing symbiosis of his hand and the tree enveloping it. Trattenere 6, 8, 12 anni di crescita (Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto) comprises these three casts made in the past 12 years.

While the artist’s grasping hand hinders the natural growth, each tree adapts to the constraints of the metallic touch, subsequently embracing and absorbing the hand. Here, both the human body and the tree are simultaneously metamorphosed to become one inseparable entity. Its sculptural identity continues to organically evolve and link its past, present and future.

Respirare l’ombra (2008), a wall installation consisting of cages of laurel leaves, will cover one of the main walls in the lower gallery and perfume the space with its scent. While tactility is central to Penone’s practice, the sense of smell is employed to further transform our experience of the world around us.

A forest of interweaving bronze branches supporting terracotta casts (Terra su terra, 2014/2015) and a group of marble and bronze tree sculptures (Indistinti confini, 2012) will populate both gallery floors. Like Respirare l’ombra, these works recreate an environment similar to the woods of Garessio, Italy, where Penone had immersed himself during his formative years.

The man-made parts of the works – the cages in Respirare l’ombra and the marble that encases the roots of Indistinti confini – at first appear to interrupt the natural progression observed in forest-like environments, but eventually surrender to the organic force that searches for harmonious unity through gentle transfiguration.

In the lower gallery, Penone returns in full circle to his theme of ‘touch’ with his body of work Corteccia (1986), representing his daughter Caterina in a series of terracotta portraits. Certain areas are painted with majolica glaze to emphasize the artist’s touch, which goes beyond serving as a tool but as an object itself for the sculpture.

Gianfranco Maraniello states in his essay Giuseppe Penone: the Possibility of Sculpture, “The hand itself is the first mould for every form with its imprint transferred to the material to be shaped, thus initiating a constitutive negative dialectic.”

Penone’s new and iconic sculptures are currently on display in the Rijksmuseum Gardens in Amsterdam (until October 2, 2016). The Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto (MART) has just presented a major survey exhibition. Penone’s work has also been recently exhibited at Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2015); Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne (2015); Beirut Art Center (2014); Musée de Grenoble (2014); Kunstmuseum Winterthur (2013); and Whitechapel Gallery, London (2013).

Giuseppe Penone presented his large-scale sculptures in several prestigious gardens such as the gardens of the Château de Versailles (2013); Madison Square Park, New York (2013); Giardino di Boboli, Forte di Belvedere, Firenze (2014); and La Venaria Reale, near Turin (2015).

Giuseppe Penone was born in 1947 in the small town of Garessio, in Piedmont region, Italy. He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Turin where he lives and works. In 2014, Penone was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award for Sculpture, and in 2007, he represented Italy at the 52nd Venice Biennale.

A walk through with Clare Lilley, director of programme, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, will take place on Saturday, October 8 at 4pm.

Marian Goodman Gallery London, 5-8 Lower John Street, London, W1F 9DY

Shadow puppet theatre from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand

Exhibition preview

AN EXHIBITION entitled Shadow puppet theatre from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand will be on display at the British Museum (Room 91) from September 8, 2016 to January 29, 2017.

This exhibition draws on the British Museum’s unique Southeast Asian shadow puppet collection. Shadow theatre performances involve the manipulation of two-dimensional, hide puppets between a light source and a white cloth screen by a puppeteer who simultaneously conducts the orchestra.

Puppeteers can have 200 or more puppets in their collections. Some of these puppets are generic, while others represent specific characters, and a few are considered to be sacred, such as the clowns and the holy man figure used in the rituals associated with the start of a performance in Thailand and Malaysia.

Shows are usually commissioned and performed at life events, such as weddings or funerals, in celebration of the harvest, and in fulfilment of vows, but they have also been commercialised as entertainment in some areas.

This exhibition will include Javanese puppets of the Raffles collection from circa 1800 (the earliest systematic collection of puppets in the world), puppets from Kelantan, Malaysia made by the puppeteers Pak Hamzah and Pak Awang Lah in the mid-twentieth century, Balinese puppets gifted to Queen Elizabeth II, and a set of modern Thai shadow puppets from the 1960s and 70s that display contemporary fashions and aspects of global pop culture. These puppets provide examples of local inspiration.

Using comparative displays, the exhibition explores the relationships between these traditions, and also examines the stories, characters, and performance styles found in the region. Shadow theatre’s popularity and spiritual associations in Southeast Asia have resulted in the reuse of shadow puppet imagery in other media, such as sacred manuscripts and protective charms.

The exhibition further demonstrates that shadow puppet theatre is a living art form that still has relevance in contemporary times. Aspects of 20th century life, such as flare trousers, plastic, electricity, and sound amplification, play a part in shadow theatre, indicating its ability to adapt to social change. Mass media has made some puppeteers into local celebrities, and the internet is sometimes used to broadcast performances.

The British Museum’s collection is expanding to record these changes. Earlier this year, wayang hip hop puppets representing the sons of the main Javanese clown figures were purchased and are on display in this exhibition for the first time.

Traditional stories performed in shadow theatre include the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics that originated in India but were reinterpreted in Southeast Asia. There is also a specifically Southeast Asian narrative cycle based on the adventures of the legendary Prince Panji.

Puppeteers have developed new stories that expand earlier narratives and examine the ups and downs of modern life. New puppets, including bandits, military figures, bureaucrats, airplanes, and mobile phones, are now also features in shadow theatre.

A full public programme accompanies the exhibition:

Southeast Asian shadow theatre in contemporary times – Tuesday, September 13 at 1.15pm, Room 91. Free, just drop in.

A gallery talk by Sadiah Boonstra, independent scholar.

Shadow theatre and the visual arts – Wednesday, October 12 at 1.15pm, Room 91. Free, just drop in.

A gallery talk by Alessandra Lopez y Royo, independent scholar.

Curator’s introduction – Friday, November 4 at 1.30pm, BP Lecture Theatre. Free, but booking essential (+44 (0)20 7323 8181).

With Exhibition Curator Alexandra Green, British Museum

Performance of Arjuna’s Meditation: A Play for Shadow Theatre – Friday, November 4 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm, BP Lecture Theatre. £5, Members/concessions £3.

Enjoy a classic shadow theatre play about one of the great heroes of the Mahabharata epic, with shadow puppets and live gamelan music. Presented by Matthew Isaac Cohen and dancers and musicians from Institut Seni Budaya Indonesia Bandung.

The world of Southeast Asian shadow theatre – Wednesday, November 9 at 1.15pm, Room 91. Free, just drop in.

A gallery talk by Alexandra Green, British Museum.

Southeast Asian shadow puppets in performance – Thursday, December 8 at 1.15pm, Room 91. Free, just drop in.

A gallery talk by Matthew Cohen, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Southeast Asian shadow puppet theatre – Tuesday, January 17 at 1.15pm, Room 91. Free, just drop in.

A gallery talk by Farouk Yahya, Ashmolean Museum.

Image: Balinese ogre – Southern Bali; hide, bamboo; mid-20th century © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Admission: Free.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG

Tel: 020 7323 8181


Also at the British Museum: Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds (until November 27, 2016).

Unique David Bowie photography exhibition comes to Photofusion in Brixton

David Bowie, 1997 © Fernando Aceves.

Exhibition preview

BRIXTON based Photofusion is collaborating with photography collective Rockarchive to produce a unique exhibition dedicated to the memory of David Bowie.

The exhibition Silhouettes and Shadows is a visual celebration of Bowie’s life and career as remembered by the music photographers who knew and worked with him.

It will feature prints and images spanning Bowie’s career and includes works by acclaimed music photographers Ray Stevenson, Fernando Aceves, Mark Mawston, and Steve Rapport, some of which have not been exhibited before in the UK.

The highlight of the show is a range of previously unseen images taken by Fernando Aceves during Bowie’s only visit to Mexico in 1997. The candid photos show the legendary musician enjoying major cultural sites such as Teotihuacan and Palacio de Bellas Artes.

The exhibition runs from September 15 to October 26, 2016, and is timed to coincide with Brixton Design Trail, which this year pays tribute to Bowie, it’s local hero, with the theme “Rebel Rebel.” The show will be supported by a programme which includes gallery talks and community based activities.

Limited edition prints displayed at the exhibition will be available to buy directly from Photofusion or via an online gallery at

Photofusion, 17A Electric Lane, London, SW9 8LA