Art and photography

Sting, Shakti and sex: The exhibition changing our understanding of tantra

A woman has her legs slung over the shoulders of a man, bent backwards like a stone comma. One of her feet is on the man’s headdress, while he rests his chin on her “yoni”. I’m hunkered down on my knees in a back room of the British Museum, staring at a carved depiction of oral sex. Not your typical Tuesday. My guide tells me that the statue is 11th century, possibly from the Elephanta cave temples near Mumbai, and came to the museum in 1865. It venerates the vulva, or the source of creation, s

Take an LGBTQ museum tour in Cambridge — it’s not all gay penguins

When Robert Falcon Scott led his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1910, one of his team saw something unexpected. A male Adélie penguin finished mating with his partner, dismounted — and swapped positions. George Murray Levick, observing, concluded with shock: homosexuals. After Levick recorded his observations, he crossed them out and rewrote them in Greek so that only educated gentlemen could read them. His paper on the penguins’ proclivities was deemed too controversial for publication.

Welcome to Fusterlandia, the Cuban design project that transformed a community

A stone’s throw from downtown Havana and its grand dilapidation is the unassuming village of Jaimanitas – and an architectural dreamscape. Inspired by his time in Europe and public architecture projects like Gaudi’s Park Güell, celebrated Cuban artist Jose Rodriguez Fuster went back to his fisherman roots and to the impoverished costal town to begin a transformative project. In 1975, he converted his own home into an art museum by adorning it with mosaic tiles. “I started building my dream,” h

Disability History Month: Barnardo’s has published 125-year-old photos of disabled children

The late-19th century was not a good place for a child. One in seven infants died in England and Wales, and even more would later be killed operating dangerous machinery or getting stuck up a chimney, before Acts of Parliament were brought in to prohibit child labour. And in Victorian London’s East End, where Thomas Barnardo set up his first home for boys in 1870, there was also post-Industrial Revolution overcrowding, filth, poverty and disease to contend with. Poor children suffered from rick

Alejandra Atarés's portraits from the back – in pictures

When the painter Alejandra Atarés began collecting pictures of her family and friends, she was struck by those with their back to the viewer. This was the inspiration for her series Retratos, which aims to understand “the relationship between the individual and the environment”. The 28-year-old Zaragoza native, based in Barcelona, paints herself, her loved ones and celebrities, all from behind, and uses the backgrounds to evoke moments in the subject’s life.

Literature

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Pippi Longstocking turns 75: The legacy of Astrid Lindgren and the world’s strongest girl

She’s the strongest girl in the world. With her carrot-coloured pigtails, her striped mismatched socks and her freckles, she’s instantly recognisable. She’s a financially independent child, a reckless but compassionate anarchist with an intolerance for bullies. She’s a feminist role model who has inspired everyone from Michelle Obama to Lady Gaga, Madonna, Amy Poehler, Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The new edition of the Kama Sutra proves it is about more than just sex

The elegant Folio Society produces only a handful of limited editions a year; all artistic but never pornographic. So you might wonder why such a society would pick now to republish a 2,000-year-old Sanskrit guide to sex positions – literary legacy notwithstanding. But in fact (to give it its full title), The Kama Sutra of Vātsyāyana is only partially about sex. One seventh, to be exact – or so the limited editions commissioning editor James Rose assures me.

Music and podcasts

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Even for Pussy Riot, gender equality must begin at home

In Pussy Riot, male members are in short supply. But while the Russian punk feminist collective does not have a defined list of participants, one man, Pyotr Verzilov, is usually included. The husband of Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova (the group’s most famous member), is well known thanks to fighting with his wife while she was in prison, gatecrashing the 2018 football World Cup final in Russia and the fact that he was poisoned last year, allegedly by intelligence agents.

Spice Girls exhibition: Viva Forever shows Girl Power's still got it

If there was ever anything you could call a phenomenon, it would be the Spice Girls. The Fab Five entered the public’s consciousness in a way not seen since The Beatles. They became the unofficial soundtrack for a genius piece of political spin known as Cool Britannia; dragged the music industry out of its male-dominated Britpop indie-funk into a cheesy pop utopia, and flourished at the intersection of music, branding and merchandise the way no other band had done before.

HowTheLightGetsIn festival review: A rare combination of fascination and fun

“In these dark and turbulent times, we face many dangers, threats and unknowns. What beliefs and authorities have led us here? What dreams and visions for the future might enable us to create a better world?” This was the question posed by HowTheLightGetsIn, the world’s biggest philosophy and music festival (put on by the Institute of Art and Ideas and founded by director Hilary Lawson – not to be confused with the nearby Hay festival). At first glance, it seems an oddly depressing premise.

Bastille and Billy Bragg at the Union Chapel for Streets of London: A remarkable offering of solace

Put anti-homeless charity ambassador Dan Smith (Bastille frontman) and protest singer/veteran activist Billy Bragg on stage just before a general election, with an audience of 20-something-year-olds – in 2017 – and what do you get? Politics. But for a generation cowed by a political movement they (by and large) didn't vote for, and to a city overwhelmed with near-daily seismic Trump bulletins, a fundraiser for the homeless community felt almost transgressive in its sheer usefulness.

Stormzy dominated the stage at O2 Academy Brixton and proved what a superstar he really is – review

Stormzy famously said in an interview with The Guardian: “Respect me like you would Frank Ocean or Adele.” Captivated by grime’s golden boy at the O2 Brixton Academy, with that rare mix of raw talent, stage presence and humble competence, it’s impossible not to. On the last night of his sellout tour, Stormzy (Michael Omari) expertly navigated the line between meticulous control and emotional energy, visibly delighted to be back in his hometown.

August and After on their Unsigned Music Awards nomination

London-based indie-folk group  August and After have been slowly but steadily gaining a foothold on the overcrowded scene this year, following the launch of their debut EP Cascades. Following a stint at this summer’s Secret Garden Party, they toured across Europe and returned to their Paris studio for recording. It was there, mid-vocal take, that they received the news: out of almost 3,000 applicants, they’d been nominated for an Unsigned Music Award [UMA], in the ‘Best Country / Folk category.

Ho ho ho? The Bolivian pirate video and music industry

Let’s say you’re in Bolivia for the first time, and you hear a band you like, or fancy renting a DVD for the night. You soon notice the near-complete absence of original material in the country - no large record shops to speak of and just one or two video clubs with an impoverished catalogue. And well, the reliably unreliable internet connection - incidentally, one of the slowest in the continent - means that downloading is out of the question.

TV and film

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'The Snowman' is the most powerful Christmas film of them all

Do you ever want to go back in time? Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Do you still wish you could fly? There is a film that makes all of that possible. In 1978, English author Raymond Briggs achieved success with a wordless children’s picture book. The illustrations were animated into a 26-minute special by Dianne Jackson, and broadcast by Channel 4 on Boxing Day, 1982. This was The Snowman.

In Almodóvar's masterpiece 'Hable con ella', none are guilty but all are punished

What is a liminal space? From the Latin limens (threshold) the liminal is a place of in between: of ambiguity, of the nebulous line between conscious and unconsciousness, reality and fantasy. It is not where you’d think to look for decisive action, passion or indeed, transgression of boundaries. And yet the liminal is precisely where the actions - and transgressions - of Pedro Almodóvar’s’ Hable con Ella (‘Talk To Her’, 2002) play out.
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