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Kazimir Malevich: A mystery painting, either masterpiece or fake, puzzles experts

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Media captionArt expert Marina Zagidulina: “It was obviously from the school of Malevich.”

The painting has modest dimensions, but it could be a sensational find: is Man with a Shovel a genuine Malevich?

Belarus is where Kazimir Malevich, an ethnic Pole, lived, painted and developed an avant-garde movement that took the art world by storm in the 1920s. So Belarusians dearly hope their country will finally have its own Malevich confirmed.

For 25 years it has been on display in the city of Hrodna, near the Polish border, with the label: Malevich?

Internationally he is probably most famous for Black Square – a work that epitomises his love of abstract forms, in a radical break from figurative art rooted in recognisable reality. Malevich finally created four versions of Black Square.

Malevich is one of the most popular modern artists internationally, his works are cherished by galleries and they fetch eye-watering sums at auctions.

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Black Square: now a world-famous symbol of avant-garde art

Man with a Shovel came to light among antique items found by border guards at the Belarus-Poland border.

‘Here’s some rubbish’

Marina Zagidulina, a well-established art expert in Belarus, recalls how she spotted it back in 1994. After the collapse of the Soviet Union she was among about a dozen experts required to identify antiques seized at the border.

“Lots of items were found on the train travelling from Russia to Germany: miniatures by Aivazovsky, Bogolyubov, icons, binoculars, a pipe, watches – all from the 19th and early 20th centuries,” she told BBC Russian.

“Then they casually threw this plywood piece on top and said: ‘Here’s some rubbish. We wanted to throw it away, but then we thought: since it was hidden, it probably has some value’.

“I gasped immediately, as it was obviously from the school of Malevich.”

Founder of Suprematism: Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935)

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A Malevich self-portrait, 1933

  • Born near Kiev, Ukraine in 1879 – then part of the Russian Empire
  • Experiments with various Modernist styles – influenced by Impressionism, Cubism and other new art movements
  • Studies art at a Moscow institute in 1904-1910
  • In 1915 publishes his manifesto From Cubism to Suprematism, abandoning representational art, in favour of an abstract realm of geometrical shapes
  • Teaches at Soviet art schools after 1917 Bolshevik Revolution
  • Works exhibited abroad to much acclaim in late 1920s
  • Soviet officialdom turns against abstract art under dictator Joseph Stalin in 1930s – Malevich jailed for two months in 1930, and returns to figurative art
  • Dies of cancer in Leningrad in 1935, aged 57

Malevich: Master of the avant-garde

A woman was later prosecuted over the smuggling, but she went to the West after being released with a pardon.

Man with a Shovel measures 36.5cm (14.4ins) by 26.5cm (10.4ins).

Some features of the work are puzzling. Ms Zagidulina says she is sure that it was touched up with some fresh oil paint after being found at the border.

However, Yuri Kiturko, director of the Hrodna State Historical and Archaeological Museum, says it was not restored – “they just cleaned the dust off it”.

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Man with a Shovel went on show in a gallery in the Belarus capital Minsk in June

Ms Zagidulina says that in the middle of the painting “the thickness of paint varies – you can see that with the naked eye – and this needs investigating”.

Considering how hungry the art world is for Malevich works, why haven’t they authenticated this painting yet?

For the past 25 years the money simply has not been available in Belarus to do the kind of expensive authentication that the art world demands.

In addition, if proven to be genuine, the painting would require more expensive security.

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A St Petersburg art collector, Andrei Vasilyev, believes Man with a Shovel to be a fake.

“It’s a modern piece done in the style of Malevich, but made to look old, which was being taken to the West for sale at some minor auction,” he told the BBC.

He says close inspection of the plywood base should reveal the age of the work.

The fact that it came to light in the 1990s is suspicious, he argues. At that time many forgeries were sent to the West as the Soviet Union disintegrated chaotically.

But according to another art expert, Olesya Inozemtseva, the use of colour and application of paint “point to this being either a work executed by Malevich himself, or a work that he co-created, perhaps with one of his students”.

She says the influence of his Belarusian roots and surroundings on his creativity remains insufficiently researched.



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Manu Dibango: The saxophone legend who inspired a disco groove

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Nicknamed “Pappy Grove”, Manu Dibango was a musical innovator whose work over six decades inspired some of the greatest artists of our time.

The Cameroonian saxophonist, who died at 86 this week after contracting coronavirus, also influenced many musical genres.

Whether it was Congolese rumba in the 1950s, disco in the 1970s or hip-hop in the 1990s, his contribution to the development of modern music cannot be overstated.

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Manu Dibango, seen here in 1970, drew on a wide range of musical influences

In the 1950s he was at the epicentre of rumba that formed the foundation for modern popular African music.

His songs amplified the hope felt by newly independent African states and formed the soundtrack to an optimistic era.

The singer, songwriter and producer then turned his attention to another genre, and was in the vanguard of the disco era in the early 1970s.

Manu Dibango

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Through jazz I discovered all the music that I love, starting with classical music”

But Dibango’s first love was jazz, which celebrates virtuosity and encourages improvisation and cross-genre experimentation.

“Through jazz I discovered all the music that I love, starting with classical music,” he told Courier, the magazine for the UN’s cultural organisation, Unesco.

“Jazz is a much more rigorous form of music than is generally thought.”

‘Conducting seamstresses’

He was best known for playing the saxophone, but he was a talented multi-instrumentalist, who could play the vibraphone and piano.

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Media captionManu Dibango spoke to the BBC about an early performance

Emmanuel N’Djoke Dibango was born in the Cameroonian city of Douala on 12 December 1933, which at the time was French colonial rule.

His father was a civil servant and his mother was a dressmaker who led a Protestant women’s church choir several times a week.

Dibango went after school to listen to their rehearsals and it was there that he “caught the magical virus of music”, he told Courier magazine in 1991.

He would sing whenever he could and he enjoyed conducting his mother’s sewing apprentices as they sang while they worked.

“What I liked most of all was to marshal the voices into a human instrument that sounded right and true,” he said.

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Manu Dibango was sent to France to finish his studies

“Eventually the tunes I learned became so much a part of me that later on when I was in France and heard a Bach cantata that I had learned at chapel I thought at first that I was listening to music from back home.”

Dibango was sent to France as a 15-year-old to continue his schooling and also study classical piano, taking up the saxophone later.

But when he started hanging out at clubs and neglecting his studies, his parents stopped supporting him, forcing him to make music pay.

He earned his money accompanying all sorts of singers in all kinds of dives as well as playing classical music for ballet dancers.

Manu Dibango

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Manu Dibango

Papy Groove

  • Bornin Douala, Cameroon, in 1933

  • Sent to Franceat the age of 15 to continue schooling

  • Worked underband leader Josef Kabasele in Brussels in the 1950s

  • Soul Makossareleased in 1972

  • Released44 albums in his lifetime

  • Diedin Paris after contracting coronavirus in 2020

Source: Rita Ray

Moving to the Belgian capital, Brussels, in the 1950s, he found work at the Ange Noir club. It was there that he met Josef Kabasele, also known as “Le Grand Kallé” – the revered Congolese musician who led Orchestre African Jazz, a band that spawned numerous musical stars.

Impressed with the young Cameroonian’s prowess on the saxophone and piano, Kabasele took him under his wing inviting him back to what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Dibango began honing his writing and producing skills.

In the late 1960s and into the next decade, he synthesised his own unique sound, blending jazz, soul and funk with Cameroonian rhythms and melodies. He produced powerful new music that included evergreen club favourites like New Bell and Big Blow.

‘I will dance’

In 1972 he released the song that would propel him to international stardom: Soul Makossa.

Originally a B-side to the anthem for the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, it is infectious – a monster jazz funk workout featuring Dibango’s inimitable stuttering saxophone.

Soul Makossa, meaning “I will dance” in the Douala language, was a seminal track in the vanguard of the disco era, filling dance floors across the globe.

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Indeed, Soul Makossa is believed by some to be the first disco record.

The song influenced and inspired a dazzling array of artists and bands from across the musical spectrum, from jazz greats like Herbie Hancock to funksters Kool and the Gang to megastar Michael Jackson.

Dibango later accused Jackson of using a riff from Soul Makossa on Wanna Be Starting Something, the opening track of the biggest selling pop album of all time, Thriller.

Jackson settled the case out of court.

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Beninois singer Angelique Kidjo (R) called Dibango the “giant of African music”

The world of hip-hop, including Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West and Jay-Z, discovered and fell under the spell of Soul Makossa and other Dibango tracks.

Salsa legends Fania All Stars, Nigeria’s juju music maestro King Sunny Ade and Jamaica’s cutting edge reggae duo Sly and Robbie, number among the artists from different genres who were eager to collaborate with him.

He never seemed to tire of music and his 44 album releases over his long career, plus the many rumba recordings he worked on, stand as a testament to his commitment to the art.

Speaking to the BBC in 2013 about his legacy, Dibango modestly said that “when you are gone it is finished”, but as his music continues to be played and inspire people, his influence is far from finished.



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Coronavirus lockdown: Clubbers go online for music

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With the coronavirus lockdown bringing normal nightlife to an end, some enterprising DJs are going online.



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You’ll Never Walk Alone tops coronavirus ‘lockdown chart’

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Gerry and the Pacemakers topped the UK charts with You’ll Never Walk Alone in 1963

You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers has topped a chart of classic songs that are enjoying renewed popularity amid the coronavirus crisis.

The Official Charts Company’s “lockdown listening list” is based on the tunes that have seen the biggest increases in plays on streaming services this week.

You’ll Never Walk Alone was up 150% after dozens of radio stations came together to play it last Friday.

Tracks by Akon, Frank Ocean and The Police also featured in the top five.

The UK is tuning in to a mixture of “uplifting classics, ‘apocalyptic’ isolation songs and kids’ favourites”, the OCC said.

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Left-right: REM’s Michael Stipe, The Police’s Sting, and Akon

Akon takes two spots in the top five with with his newly relevant hits Locked Up and Lonely.

The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close To Me is in third place, while Frank Ocean’s Lost is at number four.

Elsewhere, REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It is at eight, just behind John Lennon’s Imagine, which recently inspired Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot to co-ordinate a star-studded sing-along.

Official UK Charts Company’s Lockdown List
1. You’ll Never Walk Alone Gerry and the Pacemakers
2. Locked Up Akon
3. Don’t Stand So Close To Me The Police
4. Lost Frank Ocean
5. Lonely Akon
6. Move Your Feet Junior Senior
7. Imagine John Lennon
8. It’s the End of the World as We Know It REM
9. Reach S Club 7
10. Everybody Hurts REM

The Official Charts Company used Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and other services to track the fastest-growing catalogue songs this week.

You’ll Never Walk Alone originally featured in the 1945 stage musical Carousel, before Gerry and the Pacemakers’ Merseybeat cover version topped the UK chart in 1963.

This week’s popular children’s songs include I Am Your Gummy Bear by German cartoon character Gummy Bear, and Disney soundtrack songs like Under the Sea and Hakuna Matata, from The Little Mermaid and The Lion King respectively.

Official Charts Company chief executive Martin Talbot said: “The music that we are listening to reflects how we are all coping in different ways – using it to lift our spirits, give us a laugh or bring us together with our families.”

However, figures released earlier this week suggested use of music-streaming apps had declined during the pandemic while radio listening has increased, as fewer people commute and more stay at home.



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