The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


Yinka Shonibare, Pop! Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. 16 March – 20 April

Stephen Friedman Gallery is exhibiting a show of new works by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, famed for his installation of a ship in a bottle on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. Drawing on Shonibare’s observations on the financial crisis, the exhibition humourously explores themes of corruption and decadence. Shonibare critiques contemporary society’s penchant for luxury goods and the idiosyncrasies of the banking industry. Shonibare has re-worked of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, where Christ is replaced by Dionysus – the mythological God of fertility and wine – surrounded by twelve over-indulged "disciples". The celebration of Dionysian excess continues in a piece called Banker, which portrays a well dressed mannequin suggesting a lewd act of self-pleasure with a champagne bottle. Figures depicted in these works are dressed in Batik printed cloth. The technique of textile manufacture and printing originated in Indonesia, and was mass produced by the Dutch and sold to west African countries, where it became a symbol of "African" identity. 


Human Rights Watch Film Festival. London(Various Locations): Curzon Soho, Curzon Mayfair, ICA, Ritzy Cinema. 13-22 March 

Established in New York in 1994, and coming to London in 1996, Human Rights Watch has organised this annual film festival to shed light on issues of human rights abuse through film. This year’s programme covers four themes: traditional values and human rights (encompassing women’s rights, disability rights, LGBT rights) crises and migration, issues in Asia, occupation and rule of the law. Fourteen documentaries and five dramas will be screened, highlighting issues from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, North Korea, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia and Tanzania. Many films will be followed by Q + A sessions with filmmakers and experts.


The Audience, Gielgud Theatre, London. Until 15 June

Based on the weekly private meeting between monarch and prime minister known as "The Audience", Peter Morgan’s latest play imagines a series of meetings between the changing incumbents of Number 10 Downing Street and the Queen over a period of sixty years. From young monarch to  grandmother, the play charts pivotal moments of the second Elizabethan reign. While ministers move on, the monarch remains a constant force, skilfully played by Helen Mirren. (The Audience is reviewed by Andrew Billen in the latest edition of the New Statesman.)


 Flamenco Festival (10th anniversary). Sadler’s Wells, London. 15- 27 March

Tante (song), palmas (handclaps), baile (dance) form the three pillars of the expressive Spanish dance form, Flamenco, dating back to the 15th century following an influx of Romani Gypsies via India, North Africa, and the Middle East. With expressive arms and powerfully stamping feet, the Sadler’s Wells will be putting on a spectacular display of performances by leading dancers and musicians in  the tenth edition of London’s annual Flamenco Festival. This year, there will be eight different performances in the main house and two special perfomances in the Lilian Baylis studio along with additional events taking place around the building. Dancers to look out for will be Israel Galvan and Eva Yerbabuena   On the 15, 16 and 22 of March, Sadler’s Wells will be holding a Spanish Food and Wine Festival in conjunction with the dance performances, where audiences will be able to sample traditional Tapas, Andalucian dishes all expertly matched with the best Spanish Wines. (This will need to be booked in conjunction to tickets to the festival.)

Anglo-Nigerian contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare poses next to his Fourth Plinth commission (Photo: Ben Stanstall, Getty Images)
Kyle Seeley
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For emotional value, Emily is Away – a nostalgic instant messaging game – is this year’s best release

If you want to express your lingering teenage angst, there’s no better option.

Every now and then, a game is released that goes beyond what it may look or sound like. It goes straight to the pit of your insides where you thought you had no soul left, and jolts you back to life. Or at least it attempts to. This year, it's Emily is Away.

Firstly, anyone and everyone can virtually play this thing as it’s a crude Windows XP simulator displaying an AIM/MSN messenger client and can run on the PC equivalent of a potato. And it's free. It’s a short game, taking about 30 minutes, in which you play a person chatting away to your friend called Emily (who could be more), choosing from a set list of pre-selected instant messages.

Each chapter takes place in a different year, starting in 2002 and ending in 2006.

You’re instantly smacked with nostalgia thanks to the user screen of Windows XP and a fuzzed out background of Bliss, which was the default wallpaper in the operating system, and probably the most widely seen photo in the world. And your ears aren’t abandoned either, with the upbeat pinging sounds reminiscent of how you used to natter away with your personal favourite into the early hours.

The first chapter starts with you and Emily reaching the end of your last year in high school, talking about plans for the evening, but also the future, such as what you’ll be studying at university. From this early point, the seeds of the future are already being sewn.

For example, Emily mentions how Brad is annoying her in another window on her computer, but you’re both too occupied about agreeing to go to a party that night. The following year, you learn that Brad is now in fact her boyfriend, because he decided to share how he felt about Emily while you were too shy and keeping your feelings hidden.

What’s so excellent about the game is that it can be whatever you wish. Retro games used the lack of visual detail to their advantage, allowing the players to fill in the blanks. The yearly gaps in this game do exactly the same job, making you long to go back in time, even if you haven't yet reached the age of 20 in the game.

Or it lets you forget about it entirely and move on, not knowing exactly what had happened with you and Emily as your brain starts to create the familiar fog of a faded memory.

Despite having the choice to respond to Emily’s IMs in three different ways each time, your digital self tries to sweeten the messages with emoticons, but they’re always automatically deleted, the same way bad spelling is corrected in the game too. We all know that to truly to take the risk and try and move a friendship to another level, emoticons are the digital equivalent to cheesy real-life gestures, and essential to trying to win someone’s heart.

Before you know it, your emotions are heavily invested in the game and you’re always left wondering what Emily wanted to say when the game shows that she’s deleting as well as typing in the messenger. You end up not even caring that she likes Coldplay and Muse – passions reflected in her profile picture and use of their lyrics. She also likes Snow Patrol. How much can you tolerate Chasing Cars, really?

The user reviews on Steam are very positive, despite many complaining you end up being “friend-zoned” by Emily, and one review simply calling it “Rejection Simulator 2015”.

I tried so hard from all of the options to create the perfect Em & Em. But whatever you decide, Emily will always give you the #feels, and you’ll constantly end up thinking about what else you could have done.