Artbeat

18th May 2001 at 01:00
It is almost possible to imagine you are in Cape Town or Johannesburg rather than the upstairs hall of Henry Fawcett primary school in Kennington, south London, with the sun streaming through the windows. A class of Year 4 children, with their teacher Samuel Brown, are singing "Shoshaloza", the mining protest song often learned by children in South Africa. Their confidence with the words, their sense of rhythm, their contagious enthusiasm speaks volumes about the commitment of both the school and the artists working with them.

Jacky Mbuyiselwa Semela, a founder member of Step Africa and Soweto Dance Project, has helped to develop the Soweto Carnival, experience that is useful for this project, which is part of the six-week London festival, Celebrate South Africa. Jacky is one of a group of South African and UK-based artists brought together by Ali Pretty, who leads Kinetika, a team specialising in carnival arts. They are all working in three primary and one secondary school preparing a processional performance for 200 children which will be part of the Coin Street Festival on May 28. Music, crafts, costumes, singing and dancing will come together in the open air on the South Bank and at the Royal Festival Hall.

The "Shoshaloza" singers have learned a dance in which they become "kombis", the South African taxis which take workers from the townships to the cities, and their passengers. Across the corridor, a Year 5 class is divided into a boys' football team (Bafana Bafana) and a girls' (Banyana Banyana), who are making helmets out of cardboard and laminates along the lines of the elaborately cut and decorated miner's helmet, adapted by real footballers, which Ali has shown them. Their afternoon will be spent developing a footballing dance.

Kombis and football are two of the five themes from South African life inspired by a culturally mixed market street in Jo'burg, Diagonal Street. Others are "pantsula", the street cool of young people, "sangoma", a traditional medicine doctor, and Shangaan women, street vendors from rural areas who bring goods into the city for sale.

Participating schools have seen a video of life in Diagonal Street and received an education pack devised by the artists which consists of objects inside a Zulu wedding chest. Ali Pretty and the other artists see this as the first stage in an exchange of ideas and traditions between the countries.

At Henry Fawcett, Samuel Brown says: "This is a great experience for the school - the teachers, too. We love it." More information: Coin Street Festival, 020 7401 3610; or www.celebratesouthafrica.com May 28 is also Oak Apple Day, when traditionally Charles II's ecape into the boughs of an oak is commemorated. There will be tree-related activities and guided walks at Oakwell Hall Country Park, Nutter Lane, Birstall, West Yorkshire, and an afternoon of crafts and quizzes. Information: 01924 326240.

Children from seven primary schools in Kent, Dorset and London are having their work exhibited at the National Gallery. This is the culmination of Take One Picture 2001, a project involving 100 primary schools. Teachers who attended National Gallery one-day courses were provided with a print of a painting which they took back to school to use in various curriculum areas. The work in the exhibition, all inspired by Hogarth's "The Graham Children", includes paintings, two life-size 3-D reconstructions of the picture, a video and an 18th-century-style doll's house. Work by other primary schools may be seen on a video showing at the exhibition. Information: 020 7747 2885.

This is Museums and Galleries Month and half-term is almost upon us, so the Barbican in London is likely to be receiving more young visitors than usual. Teenagers will love Jam: London-Tokyo, an exciting multimedia mix of new technology, fashion, photography, graphics and music. You get quite a whiff of Tokyo street life and the chance to see some innovative British artists, too, such as fashion designer Hussein Chalayan's "Aeroplane Dress" video, a witty mix of fashion, film and aerodynamics. You can even have a virtual face make-up on computer. The "beauty navigator" is a high-tech interactive beauty machine which simulates real makeovers. See whether you like your new self and buy the appropriate Shiseido products.

Teenage boys visiting Jam are likely to be somewhat distracted, however. If you look down into the well of the Barbican Gallery you can't miss the full-length "Big Nudes" in the exhibition of Helmut Newton's photographs. Art, fashion and soft porn are present in equal measure in Newton's work and, however accomplished, it tends to make the red-blooded woman want to hurl squashed tomatoes at it. Any idea that this is about empowerment because the subjects are not simpering maidens is nonsense. Newton photographs what turns him on.

Receiving rather less attention is another excellent exhibition which you come across in different locations all over the Barbican Centre. Myths and Monsters is billed as "a magical odyssey through the caverns and grottos of the Barbican, now haunted by long-forgotten monsters". Eight primary schools have worked with actors, storytellers and artists to build some splendid installations. Collect your map and find them all. Barbican information: 020 7638 4141.

Heather Neill


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