- Exhibit B, by artist Brett Bailey, has been branded racist by campaigners
- It features a black man in a cage and a semi-naked woman in shackles
- A petition calling for the show to be axed has been signed by 6,000 people
- The exhibition will take place at the Barbican between September 23 and 27
By THOMAS BURROWS FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 08:03 EST, 28 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:59 EST, 28 August 2014
A new art exhibition at one of Britain’s top galleries has been branded racist for using black actors dressed up as slaves.
Exhibit B, by South African artist Brett Bailey, features live performers including a black man in a cage and a semi-naked woman with shackles around her neck.
An online petition calling for the show to be axed has been signed by 6,000 people since it was launched last week.
Community activists are also drawing up plans for a demonstration over Exhibit B outside the Barbican.
It is set to take place at the Barbican between September 23 and 27 – and those at the art centre have defended the exhibition, despite the accusations of racism.
Already seen in various European capitals, the work has attracted criticism, particularly in Berlin, where it caused fury among anti-racism campaigners, who questioned the authority of a white director to tackle the story of black exploitation.
Exhibit B, by South African artist Brett Bailey, features a semi-naked woman with shackles around her neck
The controversial show most recently ran in Edinburgh until August 25.
Mr Bailey’s inspiration is the 19th century phenomenon of the human zoo, by which people of colour were displayed as museum objects to white Europeans and Americans.
The artist has recruited a number of people of African and Afro-Caribbean origin and arranged them as living sculptures that offer a painful reminder of the appalling history of colonialism and racial hatred.
But the exhibition has been attacked by campaigners and an online petition was organised by journalist and activist, Sara Myers.
She criticised the work for the lack of respect it gave to the ancestral children of the enslaved and dehumanised.
She said: ‘I’m calling on the Barbican not to display it.
‘I am a Black African mother from Birmingham. I campaign and work with my community to try to breakdown the stereotypes that black people have to struggle against in society on a daily basis.
‘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.
A petition calling for the show to be axed has been signed by 6,000 people since it was launched last week
‘We have come a long way since the days of the grotesque human zoo – we should not be taking steps back now.
‘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?”
At the beginning of the petition, she wrote: ‘We wish to register our utmost disgust at what we consider to be an outrageous act of complicit racism with the Barbican agreeing to the housing and display of this production.
‘White South African Brett Bailey claims his human zoo vanity project is “art”; just how are we as Black African’s supposed to respond to this?
‘This is simply an exercise in white racial privilege. If it isn’t, then perhaps Bailey can explain why he didn’t use white people in his zoo?
‘After all, wouldn’t him doing so be both more striking and send a clearer message?’
The controversial exhibition will take place at the Barbican from September 23 to September 27
Zita Holbourne, co-founder of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, said: ‘We don’t believe that in order to remind people of the horrors of racism, enslavement, apartheid and colonial rule it is necessary to place black people in cages and put them on display in an exhibition.
‘This exhibition does nothing to promote race equality.’
But Mr Bailey, a white man who grew up in apartheid South Africa, believes that his piece is thought-provoking.
He said: ‘Exhibit B is not a piece about black histories made for white audiences.
‘It is a piece about humanity; about a system of dehumanisation that affects everybody within society, regardless of skin colour, ethnic or cultural background, that scours the humanity from the “looker” and the “looked at.”‘
And he was defended by the Barbican’s Head of Theatre, Toni Racklin.
He said: ‘We appreciate that the work tackles controversial and sensitive issues.
Mr Bailey’s inspiration is the 19th century phenomenon of the human zoo, by which people of colour were displayed as museum objects to white Europeans and Americans
‘However I’d like to assure you that Exhibit B aims to subvert and challenge racial or cultural Otherness, not to reinforce it.
‘Exhibit B involves performers demonstrating the brutal reality behind colonisation accompanied by text that reveals the historical context of each scenario.
‘The piece aims to explore the relationship between Western powers and Africa, ranging from exposing the abhorrent historical attitudes to race during the colonial era to questioning 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.
Activist Sara Myers criticised the work for the lack of respect it gave to the ancestral children of the enslaved
‘It provokes audiences to reflect on the historical roots of today’s prejudices and policies and how these have been shaped over centuries.
‘Previous performances of Exhibit B, such as in Amsterdam, Brussels and most recently Edinburgh, have attracted a diverse and politically engaged audience and it has been seen as a watershed work that provokes discussion about racism and the historical roots of prejudices.’