UPDATE: the Barbican Centre have cancelled the show because of the ‘extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff’.
A new and very controversial dramatic exhibition is opening in The Vaults on the Southbank tonight. ‘Exhibit B: Third World Bunfight’ is a critical look at the nineteenth and early twentieth century ‘human zoos’ and has been brought to the London by the Barbican Centre.
Conceived by South African director Brett Bailey, it features black actors standing motionless in a series of glass-walled tableaus, a recreation of the cages that showed Africans as curiosities during colonial times. The exhibition finishes with a series of messages from the actors and previous visitors explaining how the production has affected their opinions.
The show received very positive reviews at Edinburgh festival, but has also been called racist by campaigners. Twenty-two thousand people have signed a petition asking for the four-day run to be cancelled – and protestors are expected at the launch tonight. But is it an interesting way to explore history and race or is it a misguided and ultimately racist work? Here’s what both sides say.
The Barbican says
‘Brett Bailey’s vision for ‘Exhibit B’ is to explore the relationship between Western powers and Africa, to expose the abhorrent historical attitudes to race during the colonial era and to question how far our society has moved on by holding up a mirror to contemporary issues such as the current treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.
‘Engaging with these subjects in a work of art is always likely to be controversial, however we feel the exhibition tackles racism in a serious and responsible manner. We hope that audiences will come to the installation with an open mind and let the work speak for itself.’
Campaigner Sara Myers says
‘If Brett Bailey is trying to make a point about slavery this is not the way to do it. The irony gets lost and it’s not long before the people behind the cage begin to feel like animals trapped in a zoo. One of the actors in his piece said “How do you know we are not entertaining people the same way the human zoos did?”
‘I want my children to grow up in a world where the barbaric things that happened to their ancestors are a thing of the past. We have come a long way since the days of the grotesque human zoo – we should not be taking steps back now.’
Read more about ‘Exhibit B’ here.