Issue 278
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Come the zombie apocalypse, it should be a universally agreed condition of Brummie-ism that the unbitten fallback to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts for the final stand. Not only is it the closest thing we have to a castle, but it is, perhaps, the city's most beautiful building and demands our defence until the very last. Artist Tess Jaray agrees — about the beauty we mean, maybe not so much about the zombies. The 81-year-old's current exhibition is inspired by the Barber itself, making now a perfect time for you to pencil in an hour or two inside (and outside) the building's chunky, chiseled walls.
Quick history lesson? The Barber was set up by Martha Constance Hattie Barber in memory of her husband Henry, a loaded property developer who made his fortune building Brum's suburbs. By his mid-thirties, the couple had retired — alright for some — but when Henry died, Lady Barber (ooh-la-la, rah-rah, ah-ah-ah) decided to make a permanent contribution to the city in his memory, financing the entire concept. Which sounds like — wait for it — Good Romance to us!    
So, in December 1932, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts was founded 'for the study and encouragement of art and music'. Hence the stunning concert hall. Lady Barber died four months later leaving all of her assets to the trustees. The money was used to acquire works of art for a collection, and to fund the construction of a new home; the absolute unit of a building we know today. In order to ensure that only tip-top artworks were bought for the Barber, Lady B stipulated that all purchases should be 'of that standard of quality as required by the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection'. So, bloody good then. 
Officially opened by Queen Mary in the summer of 1939, the Grade II, Art Deco beauty is home to major works by Manet, Monet and Magritte; Bellini, Botticelli and Brueghel; Rubens, Rossetti, Rodin and Renoir – not to mention alliteratively less helpful geniuses like Gainsborough, Turner, Degas, van Gogh and Picasso. And until May 12 it's home to Tess Jaray's exhibition From Outside.
For more than 50 years, Jaray — one of the UK’s most distinguished living artists — has been stimulated by architecture, exploring and testing spatial qualities of form and colour, pattern and shape – and translating these experiences of space into two dimensional abstractions. Like, for example, the tiled floor for Centenary Square. Yep, that's her work making way for a tramline as we speak, 17 years after it was first laid. This floor pattern from Victoria Station is also Tess's work. And now six hand-painted pieces, two years in the making are inside the Barber. Weird, wild, powerful and dizzying works, inspired by the Barber's slabby, zig-zaggy design.

The minimal, abstract compositions in shades of green, blue, buff and pink nod towards the patterned red brick and pale stone of the building's façade. This basically means that the jagged elements echo this bit of the Barber's exterior, while the impactful door-like moments in her work represent, you guessed it, the Barber's impactful door. The smaller squares, we reckon, nod to this pattern on the north side of the building
What our crude explanation doesn't do is give a sense of quite how spellbinding the exhibition is. Quite how juxtaposing the pieces feel in a gallery so synonymous with classical art — it's quite rare in fact for the Barber to display work from artists who are still alive. Jaray's foreboding, monolithic, playful pieces — as the title for the exhibition suggests — brings the outside, in. Before you take what you've seen inside, back out and, invariably do a circuit of this awe-inspiring building, mentally slotting Tess's jigsaw pieces into the walls and the gaps and the doorways.

From Outside is open until May 12, admission is free. The Barber is open until it falls to the zombie hoard, admission also free.


There's a lot to be said for tried and tested when it comes to beer but with so many breweries producing other-worldly new drops, there's even more to be said for low-risk curiosity. Brum Bottle Share offers just that — try small amounts of all sorts of ales, lagers and maybe even the odd stout with the new monthly meet up. Founder and beer blogger, Rob Edwards, is bringing the 2018 edition of Saison Anniversaire by Burning Sky, a brewery that he says is making some of the best beer in the country right now. Join Rob and other beery sorts at The Wolf on April 24 from 7pm, and on the last Wednesday of every month. More


National holidays increase your hours spent with the younger generation, and that's a fact. When your house can take no more Easter crafting — or perhaps more sensibly, before — there's a free escape room that we can first-hand confirm entertained a two and six-year-old, almost as much as the adults for whom you can add at least another thirty years in age. Break free from Touchwood's temporary chocolate factory, by fixing it via cocoa-themed puzzles and clues. The twenty minuter is free and at Theatre Square (the outdoor bit at Touchwood) 'till April 28.
Venue: Syriana, 1 Constitution Hill, B19 3LG; website
Choice: Lamb shakreyeh (£9.95) Chooser: Owner

The first time we ate Lebanese food was at Syriana, back when Constitution Hill was still an adventurous distance from town. And like our first curry and our first Thai meal, those novel flavours and textures made a happy little imprint on our ever more finely tuned tongue. Ten years, a lot of Persian food, and a full on refurb later, we were back and feeling nostalgic. And while the baba ganoush and the chargrilled chicken weren't quite at the level our untrained tastebuds remembered, it was good, and it was time for us to meet our next bit of new. Shakreyeh is a typical Syrian stew of lamb in hot yoghurt and egg. It looks about as appetising as it sounds but it actually tastes really good, with tender lamb and a hint of mint coming through the way this kitchen serves it. And it turns out almost the entire team at Syriana is — as the name might suggest — Syrian, so it's probably not Mensa-grade genius to guess what cuisine is going to come out trumps. Expect handshakes, beams and really heart-warming service, plus teas and baklava you don't have to ask for. Open daily from 4pm 'till late.


A friend of ours has a theory that every single meal would be improved by the simple addition of a fried egg. No exceptions. And though we don't subscribe entirely to this school of thought (cereal being one concern) it did occur to us that many a sport could be improved by simply adding beer. And just as pool, crazy golf and ping pong have been lacquered with the booze brush, now it's the turn of darts. St Paul's Square's The Rectory has been — quite rightly — gutted and refurbed to house half a dozen dart boards, downstairs in the 180 Club. Which is all well and good, but the real beauty lies in the tech. Those who remember ten pin bowling (another "sport" massively improved by pints) when scoring was a pen and paper exercise, will recount how painfully tedious it all was and how revolutionary the scoring tech felt when it landed. Well, through some sort of witchcraft, your dartboard now knows what score you've hit and can tell you where you need to fling your next arrow. It'll even recommend simple games to play — because nobody really knows how darts works. To sum up, it's super clever and it could do more for the game of darts than Bully's special prize. Go, this is a right giggle. From £15 an hour per board. More
If you've managed to chocolate yourself out already, how's about some gin and rum this weekend, or perhaps better, a festival saluting both. On Saturday and Sunday at Edgbaston Cricket Ground, tickets are £12.
Or go full Caribbean with a reggae cookout on Sunday. Jerk chicken, curry goat, dumplings and plantain will all be occurring from the kitchen of Mr Jerk. There'll also be two bars in and around the Brierley Hop House.
Save the date: Home at the Mailbox is three days of promotions, events and general loveliness at, guess where? From May 4 to 6.

Typography top dawg Tom Hicks' photography is for the viewing at Bar Opus right through to the end of July. And we all know the team's terrace gets the last sun of the day in the city centre so you're basically going to be there anyway.
For his 80th, Ian McKellan's taking his one-man show around the country, including to The Rep. Tickets to the additional performance he announced this week are available from midday on Saturday (the first one sold out proper smartish). Or become a member of The Rep and you can book right now. 
Have yourself the happiest of Easters. We're taking a frankly only mildly deserved holiday. In and around Birmingham, naturally. Back May 2. Miss you already.

"The atmosphere is so tense, if Elvis walked in with a portion of chips, you could hear the vinegar sizzle on them."

Sid Waddell, the voice of darts until his death in 2012

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WORDS: Tom Cullen, Katy Drohan
PICTURES: Tess Jaray: Fez Green, 2017 (green); Return, 2017 (zig-zag) © The artist, 2019, all rights reserved. Courtesy of Karsten Schubert, London.

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