Spring culture preview

Siobhan McGuirk picks out culture highlights for February - May 2020

February 25, 2020 · 6 min read
Allora & Calzadilla Hope Hippo, 2005 Courtesy the artists. Photo: Rob Harris © 2019 BALTIC

Visual art

Until 1 March, The House of Illustration is hosting another excellent exhibition of rarely showcased revolutionary art with W.E.B. DuBois: Charting Black Lives, displaying infographics made by the influential critical race scholar and activist that were originally shown in Paris in 1900.

Using film, sculpture, drawing and installation, international artists respond to climate crisis and the shifting relationships between humans and the natural environment in Animalesque: Art Across Species and Beings (pictured) at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. The same venue is also hosting the first major UK show of work by acclaimed feminist artist Judy Chicago, placing her earlier, personally reflective work with more recent series that respond to global climate change. Both exhibitions are open until 19 April 2020.

Telling the story of the civil rights era through a lens rarely exhibited,  We Will Walk – Art and Resistance from the American South presents the work of black artists and makers (of quilts, salvaged material sculptures and photographs) who grew up in Alabama and surrounding states in a segregated era. A celebration of the protest art tradition and black US heritage, at Turner Contemporary in Margate until 3 May.

Tate Liverpool hosts the acclaimed video installation of South African artist Candice Breitz, Love Story, 9 April-7 June. Prompted by media and NGO responses to the ‘refugee crisis’, Breitz’s work raises important questions about identity and empathy in the celebrity era. A single work that resonates far beyond its viewing.


The year-long residency of Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships at York Castle Museum comes to an end on 22 March. A disarmingly affecting exhibition of everyday objects made profound through the process of relationships breaking down.

Riches and Rebellion at Tredegar House in Newport until 3 April, brings together a selection of historical materials to mark the 180th anniversary of the Newport uprising, during which 10,000 Chartists marched on the city to demand political reform. The exhibition promises to address ‘themes of power, responsibility, surveillance and the curation of history’.

An unexpectedly forthright political statement from The British Library, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights runs April 24-August 23, and promises to pose challenging questions about the impact of historical rights campaigns on today’s feminist movements. If it fulfils its promise, expect an intersectional lens, a spotlight on unsung local heroines and a clarion call to arms.


Image courtesy of The Vault Festival

An ambitious, site-specific live performance festival sprawling through the railway tunnels under Waterloo, London, and running to 22 March, the Vault Festival (pictured left) is a showcase for hundreds of one-hour shows. It offers an impressive slate of politically-infused content, but make discerning use of website content filters to unearth the gems you’re looking for.

At Royal Theatre Bath, Kate Attwell’s Testmatch tells two parallel stories, two hundred years apart, about power, colonialism, gender and… cricket. The UK premiere of a play hailed as ‘explosive’ by US critics runs April 2 – May 9.

At Sheffield Theatres until 21 March, when it transfers to Soho Theatre until 13 May, Run Sister Run is the latest work from upcoming British playwright Chloe Moss, exploring questions of sibling dependency and shifting class experience over four decades.


On tour throughout March and into early summer, Josie Long shares a much-needed dose of leftist optimism in her first show in five years, Tender, which focuses on the  ‘mind-bending intensity of new motherhood’. At a different speed, Mark Thomas tours his trademark myth-busting lecture/comedy storytelling style across the UK until 1 May, in 50 Things About Us.

Small screen

A number of standout documentary releases from the past year are already gathering award season buzz – and are already available to stream: recent Oscar-winner American Factory (Netflix) traces the culture clash that follows a Chinese buyout of an Ohio car manufacturing plant; The Edge of Democracy (Netflix) presents a personal meditation on the campaigns against Brazilian presidents Lula and Rousseff; One Child Nation (Amazon) explores the impact of China’s infamous family policy; and The Biggest Little Farm  (Universal) follows a ten-year struggle to convert 200 acres of arid California land into a functioning biodynamic farm.

The World Transformed: democratising the culture sector post lockdown

Julie Saumagne and Sam Swann explore the links between worker exploitation and institutional elitism in the culture industry

Ntando Yam: theatre as protest

Phoebe Kisubi reflects on using participatory theatre as a tool for social and political activism among sex workers in Cape Town, South Africa

Talking back to Shakespeare: theatre in women’s prisons

Shakespeare’s women can alert us to alternative stories – if we listen to them. In ‘talking back’ to the Bard we can change our own stories, says Charlotte Scott

From dole to gold

Today’s welfare system is notoriously punitive, but in the 1980s it provided the basis of future Olympic success, argues Peter Goulding

Edinburgh street artists perform in Edinburgh on the last weekend of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2009. This year saw a record number of acts perform representing the best dance, theatre and comedy.

Who’s laughing now?

As venues tentatively reopen post-lockdown, Siobhán McGuirk surveys the impact of the pandemic on comedy, theatre and the cultural sector

A little more action: theatre, disability, and Elvis

Elizabeth McGuirk interviews Claire Cunningham, the internationally acclaimed disabled artist, about taking risks, engaging audiences beyond our own bubble, and the enduring power of The King

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