A controversial art exhibition featuring black actors in cages and chained has been cancelled following complaints of racism. Exhibit B, which was to be staged at London’s Barbican, was designed to confront “the abhorrent historical attitudes to race during the colonial era” according the official description, but protesters were outraged.
The Barbican said that Exhibit B “critiques the ‘human zoos’ and ethnographic displays that showed Africans as objects of scientific curiosity through the 19th and early 20th centuries,” adding that the images “confront colonial atrocities committed in Africa, European notions of racial supremacy and the plight of immigrants today.”
The work involves visitors walking through a room where black actors portray historical human exhibits, as well as modern asylum seekers. It was created by white South African artist Brett Bailey.
The Guardian reports that 200 demonstrators gathered outside the exhibit, prompting the Barbican to end its five-day run. It had already been shown in Edinburgh.
Protesters hailed its cancellation as a victory, who said they had collected 20,000 signatures on a petition against the work.
Simon Woolley of campaign group Operation Black Vote said the Barbican did not understand the strength of feeling against the exhibition: “They underestimated it. They failed to see people’s anger at being exploited in this way. This was a vanity project. Having people objectified in this humiliating way was always going to cause a fierce reaction. It is a shame that it reached this stage but the feeling was that no one was listening.”
The Barbican how now said in a statement: “Due to the extreme nature of the protest outside the Vaults, regrettably we have cancelled this evening’s performance of Exhibit B as we could not guarantee the safety of performers, audiences and staff.
“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.”
The statement adds: “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.”