Brett Bailey’s controversial Exhibit B forces the audience to engage with stories of exploitation, say the supporters of the artwork branded as racist which has since been called off. Exhibit B, staged by The Barbican at The Vaults venue in London, was to have involved actors in chains and cages, creating an art performance featuring black actors in a recreation of a “human zoo”.
The Barbican stated that the work confronted “the abhorrent historical attitudes to race during the colonial era” but protesters called for the removal of the piece, saying that the work was offensive and racist. The Barbican is now facing continued criticism over the planned installation by the white South African playwright Brett Bailey, which was to feature live models including a semi-naked black woman with a slave shackle around her neck.
The London arts venue has defended the work of Bailey who has a history of creating race-related art; and has stated that the show intends to confront ‘European notions of racial supremacy and the current plight of immigrants’. The piece was earlier on display Edinburgh, where it had the effect of polarizing public opinion.
A petition was created against the exhibition opening at the Barbican and has gathered more than 8,000 signatures in the past two weeks. Sara Myers, who is a journalist and activist and launched the change.org petition, questioned why the London art venue would “want to objectify black people as subservient?” She told The Guardian: “This is what our ancestors went through and once again we are the guinea pigs. We have this exhibition, but still haven’t got an apology for slavery.”
The Barbican issued a statement saying the five-day run had been called off; citing “the extreme nature of the protest” and a “serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff”.