The Southbank Centre has announced a raft of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of David Bowie’s iconic 1973 album, Aladdin Sane. Aladdin Sane: 50 Years will feature a two-month long exhibition (6 April – 28 May) 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.
On the Aladdin Sane celebrations, Southbank Centre Artistic Director Mark Ball, said: “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 Aladdin Sane: 50 Years exhibition in the Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall (6 April – 28 May), 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 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 Duffy, 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.”
The exhibition is complemented by a stunning new book by Chris Duffy, Aladdin Sane 50: The definitive celebration of Bowie’s most iconic album and music’s most famous photograph – with unseen images, to be released on 30 March 2023 by Welbeck at £40 hardback.
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.
On Saturday 22 April, author and co-curator of the V&A’s hit exhibition David Bowie Is, Geoffrey Marsh, and Victoria Broackes, co-curator of David Bowie Is and director of the London Design Biennale, will explore the rise of immersive music exhibitions, from the Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism (2016) to Amy: Beyond the Stage (2021). Meanwhile, Broakes will chair a conversation with Chris Duffy discussing the Aladdin Sane: 50 Years exhibition and the enduring relevance of the album. The day’s talks will close with writers Paul Burston and Golnoosh Nour on the cultural impact of Bowie’s androgyny and his playful subversion of gender identity.
Tickets for the exhibition, live music and talks will be available on Wednesday 1 March, 10:00am via https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/festivals-series/aladdin-sane-50-years
Stretching over fifty years, David Bowie and the Southbank Centre have had a storied past. Bowie made his Southbank Centre debut in 1969 in the recently opened Purcell Room when it cost as little as five shillings to see him perform ‘Space Oddity’. Three years later, Bowie headlined the Royal Festival Hall for a special Save the Whale benefit gig, including a guest appearance from Lou Reed. In 2002, David Bowie curated the Southbank Centre’s annual contemporary music festival, Meltdown, which featured performances from The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, The Divine Comedy, Phillip Glass, Suede and a fledgling Yeah Yeah Yeahs. After a warm-up DJ set by TV host Jonathan Ross, Bowie closed out the festival by playing his 1977 album Low in its entirety for the very first time before giving the same treatment to his then recently released Heathen.