Barbican Guide
February 2021

Cover image by Harry Cory Wright from his book Barbican Centre

Cover image by Harry Cory Wright from his book Barbican Centre


Our Centre may be closed, but we’ve still got plenty of arts and learning to tempt you this month (from home). Read on to discover a plethora of Michael Clark interviews and videos, a fascinating interview with didgeridoo master William Barton, and to writer Gina Tonic’s favourite films that celebrate plus-size characters. Plus, for young people looking to get into the creative industries our latest season of Creative Careers has a broad range of topics to consider.

Bring the big screen home

Being stuck indoors with grey skies outside is just the excuse you need to watch handpicked independent films and new releases. Curated by our own cinema programming team or other specialists, you can travel the world from the comfort of your own home through film.

This month’s bumper offer includes six films and a special season. From tech to Truman Capote, cats to creepy crawlies, you can find out exactly what’s on here.

What’s more, members get discounts on movies – as well as other money-off and special offers, as well as knowing you’re helping the Centre in these difficult times.

When didgeridoo meets orchestra

The world’s foremost didgeridoo player William Barton performed his crossover composition 'Didge Fusion' as part of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s virtual residency. He explains what inspired him to meld the ancient history of music from his Kalkadunga tribe, with the comparatively recent Western music tradition.

William Barton

William Barton

‘Mum used to play classical music to me before I was born, and during my childhood, and I always just felt at home listening to classical music, especially the big grand orchestral pieces.

‘The combination of the didgeridoo and orchestra, I think, is quite an intriguing thing. I wanted to create new repertoire for the didgeridoo and not make it a tokenistic sort of collaboration. I wanted it to be a real and meaningful engagement of this ancient instrument, the didgeridoo, the yidaki, with these magical instruments of the orchestral world. They do both go hand in hand. The didgeridoo is made out of the branch of a tree. But I think this finding the breath and the language that helps communicate the cause, and the cause for me was to reach out beyond my own community, beyond Mount Isa, not only nationally in Australia but internationally, and just share this something special of unity on stage.

‘So through this collaboration with the ACO in particular, having my work ‘Didge Fusion’ be performed is quite special. There's a song component that I sing within the work: It’s like “Kalkadung man, Kalkadung woman, teaching young bila bila around the campfire in the night, we got to watch, listen, learn, and then we got to do it ourselves”. I’m talking about the passing of the culture around the campfire in the night. And I wrote that bit of the song, that melody, when I was 15 years old, and so it holds deep in my heart.

‘The reason why it's called ‘Didge Fusion’ is that I combined my other musical influences, from listening to alternative, heavy rock and rock music, to the classical. From a bit of AC/DC to Bach and Vivaldi. I wanted to combine those elements with the guitar and the didgeridoo, make it really interesting, and have this level of musicianship that I can still keep on getting better at. That's another beautiful thing about collaborating – it makes you a better artist, if you're collaborating with the right people.’

Listen to the full interview here:

Give your creative career a boost

Our Creative Careers sessions are aimed at young people wanting to get into the creative industries, or further their career in the arts. Tackling topics such as productivity, inspiration, authenticity, collaboration, and more, each one offers thinking points and advice to spark inspiration.

In each session, guests discuss their own career: the ups and downs, how they overcame challenges, and share important lessons.

Aba Amoah / Photo: @offical_kaicapture

Aba Amoah / Photo: @offical_kaicapture

Listening is an act of power

Have you checked out Soundhouse yet? Our platform for creative radio and podcasting has three ‘listening rooms’ curated by audio artists who’ve selected innovative and interesting stories for you to listen to. The rooms run on a continual loop, meaning people can’t rewind or fast-forward – bringing a sense of communal listening to the experience.

And if – like many – you’re something of a radio and podcasting fan, delve deeper with some fascinating essays about listening, accessibility, and the art of telling stories.

Race, equity and justice reporter at San Francisco public radio station KQED, Sandhya Dirk, wrote about who speaks and who gets to listen. Read an excerpt below – and check out the whole thing here and immerse yourself in the listening rooms here.

I remember the first time I felt the magic of an interview, of capturing what felt like the real at the center of another person’s story. I had only met Talice in the moments before I switched on the recorder. I was reporting on the high drop-out rate in Oakland public high schools, looking for students who were on the cusp of leaving, and a teacher told me I should talk to Talice.

'Do you mind talking to me,' I asked.

'Okay,' she said, as I sat down on the stairs of the school hallway while she leaned her tiny frame against a wall. And it came out of her: the mother with a crack habit who would steal from her, having to put a lock on the door to her room, the good grades now slipping because she was working two jobs to keep the lights on at home.

I held the microphone up, even as my arm shook. I stared into her eyes. She was so tired, she said. She cried. And then I cried.

'I’ve never told anybody all this before,' Talice said.

For a long time I thought something had happened in that moment that had allowed me to bottle magic within the confines of my recording device. Something honest, something real.

But now I wonder if something else, invisible, was happening in those moments instead: was my recording device a kind of cage that I was trapping Talice in? Was I stealing her voice? Mining her for her story?

Mmm… a treasure trove of Michael Clark treats

Michael Clark in a publicity photograph for New Puritans, 1984 © Richard Haughton

Michael Clark in a publicity photograph for New Puritans, 1984 © Richard Haughton

Our acclaimed exhibition dedicated to the career of dancer and choreographer Michael Clark explored his artistic collaborations, and the influence he has on modern culture. Although it’s closed now, there are loads of things to read, watch and listen to, on our special minisite.

See Jarvis Cocker’s band JARV IS…’s musical response, or go on a video walk-through the exhibition with Clark himself. Graphic designers Malcolm Garrett and Pete Savile share their approaches to creating some of the iconic imagery the Michael Clark Company is well-known for. Our podcast series Nothing Concrete meets some of the key figures in Clark’s creative world, such as fashion and costume designer Stevie Stewart, and fellow choreographer Richard Alston.

There’s so much to enjoy here, don’t blame us if you lose track of time down a rabbit hole .

Fat representation in film

Ahead of a new shorts programme celebrating fat bodies on Cinema on Demand, writer Gina Tonic shares her favourite films that show plus-size characters as complex, diverse and something to celebrate.

My mam let me watch the film Chicago (2002) when I was far too young – eight years old, to be precise – to understand it. The reason she allowed it, however, was for bonding’s sake. We had grown up with the soundtrack from the stage show always playing in her car and I knew every word - though I was strictly forbidden from singing along to the “screwing the milkman” verse from Cell Block Tango. My mother and I were obsessed with the show tunes soundtrack and blasted it on every car trip we took so, when the movie came out, she allowed an eight-year-old me to give it a watch. (And a watch at least once a week for the following year.)

My favourite song from the CD and from the film itself has always been When You're Good to Mama, which was performed in the film by Queen Latifah. Her character is in charge of the inmates of the women’s prison, she is a character who is sexy and a character who is – most importantly to me at the time – plus-size. Just like me. Just like my mother. Just like pretty much every woman in my family.

Matron Mama Morton uses her authority and influence to not just benefit her inmates, but most importantly, benefit herself. The confidence of this plus-size Black woman and her position of power served as inspiration to a child-sized me that fat can be beautiful, fat can be sexual, and fat can be empowering.

Hairspray (2007),

Hairspray (2007),

This embodiment of fatness as not just accepted, but celebrated, is reprised by Queen Latifah five years later in her role as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray (2007). Where John Travolta’s Edna Turnblad is learning to love herself, Motormouth Maybelle already does. She is imperative in not just providing a safe space and opportunities for her Black community, but for inspiring mother and daughter duo Tracey and Edna Turnblad in their self-love journeys.

This iteration of Hairspray exemplifies the inspirational nature of Motormouth Maybelle as a fat positive figure with her solo song Big, Blonde and Beautiful, but in the original Hairspray (1988) - which is notably, not a musical - Ruth Brown’s Motormouth Maybelle embodied body positivity in a totally different manner. Her size is not mentioned, but she is repeatedly shown in gaudy but gorgeous outfits and is a figurehead for her community regardless of her fatness.

Hairspray (1988) 

Hairspray (1988) 

This Hairspray also differs from its musical remake by being much more explicit with its fatphobic language: from Amber Von Tussle repeatedly slating Tracey’s size, to Edna Turnblad (played by Divine) asking Tracey to cut the calories and if she’s ‘taken the appetite suppressant’ that the doctor ‘recommended’, the subject of weight is crucial to the story. Still, these more extreme interactions don’t feel all that exaggerated when viewing them as a fat person. If anything, these harsh criticisms from family and peers feel incredibly realistic to the lived experience of a fat person.

Why couldn’t the most attractive person in existence also be fat?

Contextually however, these fatphobic Hairspray scenes are incredibly tongue-in-cheek when considering Divine and John Waters’ pivotal roles in changing fat representation on screen.

Female Trouble (1974), for example, had a revolutionary role not just in my life, but in the lives of many fat people in changing how we see ourselves. Dawn Davenport repeatedly tells her peers and viewers that she is ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ and as an audience, we believe her. Not just because she notifies us at several points in the film but because, like Motormouth Maybelle, she embodies it. By treating herself as the most beautiful woman in the world, it raises the question: Why couldn’t the most attractive person in existence also be fat?

Riot Not Diet (2018), showing as part of Reframing the Fat Body

Riot Not Diet (2018), showing as part of Reframing the Fat Body

It is worth recognising that Hairspray and Female Trouble’s inclusive nature of fat bodies - in many roles, rather than a token singularity - is a trademark of John Waters, who’s entire filmography uplifts different kinds of plus-size people throughout. As well as Ruth Brown, Ricki Lake and Divine, Waters’ cast members have included fellow fat actors Edith Massey, Jean Hill and Mary Jo Catlett. All fat people, playing fat characters, who are more nuanced than simply having fat-centric storylines, but are also empowered and liberated by their fatness.

All the plus-size characters listed above have led the way in creating fat narratives in cinema that are complex, diverse but also celebratory. It is far too easy for more mainstream movies like Norbit (2007) and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) to include plus-size characters - not even played by fat actors - and make them a punchline. The joke being, ‘Isn’t fatness repulsive?’

Aquaporko! (2003) showing as part of Reframing the Fat Body

Aquaporko! (2003) showing as part of Reframing the Fat Body

Similarly, films with fat characters that try to show the importance of “inner beauty” - Shallow Hal (2001), The Nutty Professor (1996) and I Feel Pretty (2018) - do a disservice to plus size people by basing their plots around the idea that fat people can be loved in “spite” of their bodies. This rhetoric works around the implication that fatness is a negative that can be worked around.

Why my eight-year-old-self loved Chicago, my eighteen-year-old-self loved Hairspray and why I am still obsessed with both these musicals and the back catalogue of John Waters centres around the portrayal of fatness as a positive. Fat people are surely more than “just” our bodies. Simultaneously, our bodies are worthy of love, attention and adoration for their fatness alone too.

Reframing the Fat Body is a programme of shorts where fat bodies are freed from the restraints put upon them by modern society and allowed to be fluid, free, sexy and radical. Available on Cinema On Demand from 1–28 Feb. The programme also features a ScreenTalk by Grace Barber-Plentie, who curated the programme, Tara Brown and Chloe Sheppard.

Gina Tonic is a creative freelance culture journalist based in Manchester. She champions a feminist perspective in her work and has been writing professionally for over six years. Tonic currently holds editing roles with Polyester Zine and The Breakdown and co-founded The Fat Zine in 2020.

New perspectives

Markus Klassen, @klassemark, shared this photo on Instagram, telling us, ‘Whenever I am in London, I pay at least one visit to the Barbican. I love to stroll around and discover this fascinating concrete treasure island. The picture was taken on a grey November afternoon.’

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.

Guilt-free shopping

Our shop has a wide range of ethical products to choose from. Here’s a selection of some of the makers we work with.

Reflect Studio Collection

Istanbul-based Reflect Studio puts sustainability at the core of its business, working with fair trade production partners and using eco-friendly and long-lasting materials. The Shapes collection has been created for the Barbican, inspired by the architecture of the estate, distilled into simple, bold shapes in lush and playful colours.

Jakhu Studio

Jakhu Studio is a London-based jewellery brand founded on the principles of contemporary design, high quality materials and ethical fashion. The jewellery is handcrafted in Peru in a collaborative partnership with silversmiths from San Jeronimo de Tunan; using locally sourced silver and traditional techniques of jewellery-making.

Earl of East Soy Wax Candles

Hand poured into dark amber apothecary jars at their East London studio, this soy-wax candle will burn for 40 hours. Including a bespoke blend of sweet coconut, green oregano and earthy vetiver to exhilarate the fig leaf, creating a sense of hazy & balmy summer nights. When burning the combination of both earthy and sweet notes create an inspiring atmosphere. Soy wax is vegan, natural and biodegradable and also burns more cleanly than paraffin wax with less of a soot build up.

Find these items in our online shop.

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

My Barbican: Alex Davidson (Cinema Curator)

Some of my favourite places in the Barbican recall the arts centre’s rich motion picture history and are fun, evocative spots to visit before or after seeing a film in one of our cinemas.

Entrance to the Barbican via the car park

The Ploughman’s Lunch (1983), a bitter, punchy dissection of social aspiration and cynicism, depicts the Barbican as a background to the beginning of a potential relationship, as Jonathan Pryce and Charlie Dore swan into the arts centre via the car park and get symbolically rather lost on their way to the art gallery, via the lifts. I saw The Ploughman’s Lunch long before I had ever been to the Barbican, and while the film aims to skewer pretention, the whirl through the building, from the car park entrance and up, nonetheless showcases a remarkable, exciting arts space. Despite the film’s critique, I couldn’t wait to visit, and every time I walk through this entrance from the car park, even though I don’t have a car, I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia.

Base of Cromwell Tower

The Barbican has a scene-stealing cameo at the end of The Hunger (1983), Tony Scott’s stylish horror movie that blends two of many of my favourite things – gay vampires and no-holds-barred 80s aesthetic extravaganza. The final scene, as Susan Sarandon gazes over the city as Catherine Deneuve screams from her coffin, was filmed in Cromwell Tower. As I don’t live at the Barbican I can’t visit the flat where it was filmed, so gazing at the building from its base is as close as I’ll get to recreating my moodily-beautiful-but-eternally-damned gothic fantasy.

Martini Bar

The Martini Bar is the perfect place to discuss a film after a trip to Cinema 1. Created for the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, it offers marvellous views over the foyers and lakeside. Bond aficionados can sip on an array of martinis, but the signature cocktails are much more fun. My favourite is The Brutalist, a mix of bourbon, Amaretto and apple topped with a beautiful ‘Laphroaig scented apple fan’, an accessory no discerning cocktail should be without.

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

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
Newgate Communications
Pinsent Masons
Slaughter and May
Taittinger Champagne

Trusts & Grantmakers
Edge Foundation
SHM Foundation

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