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Aladdin Sane: 50 Years exhibition to celebrate anniversary of David Bowie's iconic album

Southbank Centre hosting 50th anniversary celebration of David Bowie’s album Aladdin Sane credit:Bang Showbiz
Southbank Centre hosting 50th anniversary celebration of David Bowie’s album Aladdin Sane credit:Bang Showbiz

The 50th anniversary of David Bowie's iconic album 'Aladdin Sane' is being celebrated with a host of events being held at London's Southbank Centre.

'Aladdin Sane: 50 Years' will feature a two-month long exhibition exploring the creation of the album’s iconic artwork, including the legendary lightning flash portrait by photographer Brian Duffy, as well as a stellar line-up of live music and talks inspired by the album.

The exhibition will be held in the Spirit Level at the Royal Festival Hall between 6 April 2023 and 28 May 2023 will follow the journey of this pioneering portrait, mapping how Bowie’s continuous reshaping of his image paved the way for audiences to rethink their own identities.

Curated by Chris Duffy, the son of Brian Duffy, and Geoff Marsh, the exhibition will begin by spotlighting the vibrant music scene of the early 1970s, contextualising the pivotal moment in which Bowie and Duffy met.

It will go on to explore the unique relationship between the musician and photographer, and the January 1973 photoshoot from which the iconic 'Aladdin Sane' image was born.

Of his father’s work, Chris said: “My father’s image of Bowie is often called the Mona Lisa of Pop. It’s important to remember it was the result of a short studio shoot using film, which then had to be sent out for commercial processing. There were no instant digital images or photoshop then. It’s extraordinary how it’s lasted and been endlessly reworked. Wherever I go in the world, it’s always somewhere on a t-shirt.”

Discussing the 'Aladdin Sane' celebrations, Southbank Centre Artistic Director Mark Ball added: “We’re honoured to pay tribute to David Bowie, who made his Southbank Centre debut in 1969. The 'Aladdin Sane' album cover portrait is considered to be one of the most influential pop culture images of the past half century, and the music remains fresh and contemporary, so we wanted to recognise this major anniversary and reflect on the album and its artwork’s enduring legacy. It’s a work that continues to inspire today’s contemporary artists and the gender fluidity of the images still resonate deeply in queer culture in the UK and across the world.”

The exhibition is complemented by a stunning new book by Chris, 'Aladdin Sane 50: The definitive celebration of Bowie's iconic album and music's most famous photograph – with unseen images', which will be released on 30 March 2023 by Welbeck.

The Southbank Centre Archive will also present a separate free display exploring David Bowie’s history with the Centre, stretching over 50 years, and his ongoing legacy.

From his performance in the recently opened Purcell Room in 1969, to later performances alongside Lou Reed and his curation of Southbank Centre’s annual contemporary music festival, Meltdown, never before seen archival material will be available for public view.

Coinciding with the release of the album fifty years ago, music artists will pay tribute to Aladdin Sane in the Royal Festival Hall on Friday 21 April. Hosted by the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Mercury Prize nominee Anna Calvi, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears along with acclaimed R B singer Tawiah, Roxanne Tataei - who has collaborated with the likes of Nitin Sawhney and Shabaka Hutchings - and masked pop maestro Lynks will perform Bowie’s album in full, which includes hits such as ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Drive in Saturday’ and ‘Lady Grinning Soul’.

Meanwhile, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, two nights of joyous club music will celebrate Bowie’s inimitable persona and influence.

On Friday 21 April, DJ collective and community platform Queer House Party will host a jam-packed programme of radical fun, while, on Saturday 22 April, Afro-Caribbean inspired Queer Bruk will blend dancehall, afrobeats, soca and more for an accessible all-out party.

Across the weekend, there will also be talks and poetry events. In the Purcell Room on Friday 21 April, the National Poetry Library will present Aladdin Sound with ten of the UK's most exciting poets.

Taking their cue from the poetic language and potent imagination of Bowie's masterpiece, each poet has been commissioned to write a new poem in response to each track, creating a spoken word version of the album that will be presented live on stage. Poets include Forward Prize-winner Luke Kennard, Keith Jarrett, Golnoosh Nour and Mark Waldron.

Tickets for the exhibition, live music and talks will be available on Wednesday 1 March, 10:00am via Southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/festivals-series/aladdin-sane-50-years