Protest set for opening of ‘racist’ Barbican exhibition tonight

Exhibit B - photo by Sofie Knijff

Exhibit B - photo by Sofie Knijff - Credit: Archant

Nearly 23,000 have signed online petition to have Exhibit B cancelled

Exhibit B - photo by Sofie Knijff

Exhibit B - photo by Sofie Knijff - Credit: Archant

Protesters will form a picket line to show their anger at a Barbican Exhibition labelled “racist” by campaigners.

Nearly 23,000 people have signed an online petition to stop Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B: Third World Bunfight, which is set to open tonight at The Vaults on the Southbank.

The work, which depicts 19th century human zoos using real life black actors in chains and cages, was recently shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and received five-star reviews from both the Guardian and the Evening Standard – the former calling it “both unbearable and essential”.

It’s creator, 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 anti-racism groups, celebrities and politicians have called it “highly offensive, insulting and racist” and asked for it to be removed – planning protest for each of the four nights it is set to run.

Sara Myers, a journalist and activist who started the petition, said: “It’s offensive, it’s like our narrative is always being told from the perspective of being enslaved or being in servitude when there’s so much more to African history than just slavery.

Most Read

“It’s actually quite rude in 2014 that an institute like the Barbican thinks that putting black people in cages is challenging art and that it’s important work for London.”

Despite the petition, letters from politicians such as Labour’s Lord Boateng and a number of protests, The Barbican is still set to open the sold-out exhibition tonight.

A public discussion was held at the Theatre Royal in Stratford last night but those who have paid £20 for a 40 minute tour of the “zoo” will still have to negotiate crowds of protestors when it opens tonight.

A spokesman for the Barbican said: “We appreciate that Exhibit B is a work that tackles controversial and sensitive issues and we recognise the strength of feeling about the Barbican’s decision to programme the piece.

“We have met with representatives from the various groups behind the petition and took part in a public discussion on the issues raised by Exhibit B last night.

“We believe Exhibit B is a serious and important piece of work which aims to expose the abhorrent historical attitudes to race during the colonial era and to question how far society has moved on by tackling contemporary issues such as segregation during the apartheid period in South Africa and the ongoing treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.

“The reception for the piece, in the 12 previous venues to which it has toured, from participants, audiences and critics alike has been overwhelmingly positive”.