4th May 2001 at 01:00
Veiled in full traditional chador, an Iranian woman stands on the edge of a swimming pool and dives in, butterflying down the middle lane, black robe billowing. "Ballet was too girly-girly for me," reads the video caption, as the same veiled form speeds across the waves on a pair of water-skis. This wickedly comic video-work, Me, by Ghazel, a young Iranian woman, shows the energetic artist powering away on an exercise cycle, bouncing through an aerobics routine, ice-skating, and revving up a motorbike, dressed throughout in her ultra-modest tent-like garment. Hiding in the bathtub with a book, rolling herself in a Persian carpet, standing at the bottom of a wall with a grappling hook, Ghazel attempts to find a place for herself in the world.

Iranian Contemporary Art, an exhibition at the Barbican Centre, offers a glimpse into a world of art all but unseen outside Iran. Covering the 20 years before and after the revolution of 1979, the exhibition takes in the Spiritual Pop Art movement of the 1960s with its highly crafted canvases of abstracted calligraphy, through to exuberantly fresh work created since the liberalising of the regime in 1997. Bita Fayyazi's installation sends 1,000 giant ceramic cockroaches scurrying up the walls. Fereydoun Ave depicts the national wrestling hero grappling against a kitsch background of roses, cherries and apricots in a series of collages celebrating everything Iranians hold most dear.

The tension between traditional and modern values is wryly explored throughout; especially in relation to images of Islamic womanhood, as portrayed by younger female artists such as Ghazel and photographer Shadi Ghadirian, whose sepia-toned pictures show women in the archaic embroidered costumes of the Qajars, clutching modern talismans such as vacuum cleaners, bicycles and banned cans of Pepsi. At the Curve Gallery, Barbican, until June 3, free. Tel: 020 7638 8891. Free gallery talks at 1pm on May 12 and 19; accompanying film season on women in Iranian cinema. Websites: The Barbican is showing a separate exhibition of photographs by Iranian news photographer Seifollah Samadian. There are poignant reminders of the Iran-Iraq war - funeral processions, children playing with guns in burnt-out cars, mothers carrying pictures of lost sons. Samadian also records some of he flamboyantly coloured street murals which sprang up across Iran and, in one marvellous photograph, captures an enormous hand-painted portrait of Imam Khomeini being hung up as a mourning tribute, at the moment that the Ayatollah's bushy eyebrows unfurl from the folds of the banner.

Black British hairstyles and nail art are celebrated at the Victoria and Albert Museum's Day of Record on Monday, May 7. Visitors are invited to show off their Nubian knots, curly perms, conks, skiffles, cornrows and dreadlocks, not forgetting their latest nail decorations. Museum archivists will photograph the splendid array of braids, weaves afros and nails coming in from the street to build up a record of contemporary body decoration. The day is accompanied by talks, demonstrations, an exhibition on the history of black hairstyling (on until May 20) and informal discussions sharing reminiscences. Tel: 020 7942 2000 or see the website, Artist Sally Hampson has invented an eccentric travelling museum of natural history, the Bird-Lake Museum, which makes its first appearance at Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve on May 16. The collection appears to have been assembled by a pair of naturalists now in their nineties, the explorer-anthropologist, Kitty Lake, and her ornithologist friend, William Bird.

In fact, young people with special educational needs aged 10 to 16 from Oakley and Waveney schools in Kent, and Rosendale and Turney schools in south London, have created all the museum's exhibits from fossils and flying machines, to birds' nests and butterflies. The Bird-Lake project was instigated by the visionary art-science organisation, Arts Catalyst, which welcomes new partnerships with schools that would like to add to the museum's collections. The Bird-Lake Museum is open on May 16, 19 and 20, at Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve on the A25, Kent. Details from Arts Catalyst, 020 7375 3690.

The Clore Duffield Foundation, which runs Artworks, the national children's art awards, is organising the first National Children's Art Day on July 5. Besides events at museums and galleries such as the Lowry, Salford, National Gallery of Wales Cardiff, Ikon in Birmingham, and all four Tates, children will take over key roles in the art world, shadowing artists, critics and curators. To get involved see JUDITH PALMER

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