Reported by Kacie Whaley
Exibit B, an attraction at the London Barbican Centre which featured 19th and early 20th century depictions of racism against blacks, has caused quite a stir since the announcement of its upcoming debut. But now, the show will not be debuting in the area because of hundreds of demonstrators who were offended by its “racist” depiction of black people.
When several shocking photos of Exibit B hit the internet, controversy quickly surrounded it. The show was supposed to make its London debut at a theater on September 23rd and run for five days, but, according to News One, over 200 protesters staged a demonstration and became aggressive outside of the theater, forcing the exhibition to be canceled.
The exhibition claimed to be aimed toward “confront[ing] colonial atrocities committed in Africa, European notions of racial supremacy and the plight of immigrants today,” according to the Barbican webpage. The show has displayed real actors of African descent being as still as a painting. One of the displays show a black man siting in a cage with the words ‘The Blacks Have Been Fed’ on it (pictured). Another features a mostly-nαked man and woman wearing what appears to be tribal accessories. Another leaked photo showed a partially nudë woman chained to her bed. The show, after all, did claim to critique “human zoos” that used to be popular in London.
Critics of the show did not only congregate in the streets, but also protested over the internet. A Change.org petition said that the show was “an outrageous act of complicit racism” and called for its cancellation. The petition garnered over 22,000 supporters.
The creator of the exhibit, a white South African named Brett Bailey, went on Facebook to defend his artwork against critics and stated that he was only attempting to express his creativity through Exibit B.
“I appreciate that interpretations of this piece, as of any creative work, can vary; and that my intention to explore the machinations of systems of racism and how they dehumanize all who are touched by them can be read in different ways. I do not portray the world in the binaries of black and white, wrong and right, good and evil. I am an artist that works with colours and shades.”
After the cancellation of the art show, a spokesperson for the Barbican had this to say:
“We find it profoundly troubling that such methods have been used to silence artists and performers and that audiences have been denied the opportunity to see this important work. Exhibit B raises, in a serious and responsible manner, issues about racism; it has previously been shown in 12 cities, involved 150 performers and been seen by around 25,000 people with the responses from participants, audiences and critics alike being overwhelmingly positive.
“The Barbican has done everything we can to ensure London performances can go ahead – including continued dialogue with protestors and senior Barbican staff meeting with the leaders of the campaign and attending a public meeting to discuss the issues raised by the work. We respect people’s right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners.
“We believe this piece should be shown in London and are disturbed at the potential implications this silencing of artists and performers has for freedom of expression.”
Do you think the exhibition should have been cancelled, or were the human displays really ‘just art’?