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1,000 sign petition to cancel ‘racist’ exhibition at Barbican

12:20 27 August 2014

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition to cancel a “racist” exhibition due to be displayed at the Barbican.

Exhibit B - photo by Sofie KnijffExhibit B - photo by Sofie Knijff

The gallery is due to open Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B which features black actors in cages, depicting real 19th-century human zoos, from September 23.

Mr Bailey, a playwright who grew up in Apartheid South Africa, says the exhibition demonstrates the “brutal reality behind colonisation” and is “not a piece about black histories made for white audiences” – but activists have called it “highly offensive, insulting and racist”.

Zita Holbourne, an artist and curator who is also co-founder of Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, wrote about the exhibition: “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 and that this exhibition does nothing to promote race equality.

“This is not art as is claimed by the curator of the exhibition Brett Bailey.”

The petition currently has 1,260 signatures, despite one performer who took part describing the exhibition as one of the most “powerful experiences of my career” and another saying it “awakened me about the horrors of the past that are part of our history”.

In defence of the exhibition, Mr Bailey wrote: “Nowhere do I term Exhibit B a ‘human zoo’. 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’.”

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