Protestors close Barbican exhibition they called ‘racist’
- Credit: photo: Arnaud Stephenson
Staff pull plug on Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B as they say ‘extreme nature of protests’ threatened performers and audience
A Barbican exhibition has been cancelled after angry protesters blocked off the entrance on opening night.
More than 20,000 people signed an online petition branding Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B: Third World Bunfight ‘racist’ but the Finsbury venue had been set to go ahead with the exhibition on Tuesday night.
But after hundreds or campaigners turned up at The Vaults on the Southbank, the Barbican cancelled the show, which depicts 19th century human zoos by placing real-life black actors in chains and cages, for the safety of visitors and performers.
A Barbican spokesman said: “Last night as Exhibit B was opening at the Vaults it became impossible for us to continue with the show because of the extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff.
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“Given that protests are scheduled for future performances of Exhibit B we have had no choice but to cancel all performances of the piece.
“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.
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“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 venue had been urged to cancel the exhibition by campaigners on an online petition, which included support from Labour politician Lord Boateng.
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.
“It’s 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 controversy Exhibit B 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”.
Campaigners took to twitter to celebrate their success when the show was cancelled. Jide Adéga tweeted: “#Boycottthehumanzoo YES! We done it. This is what happens when we move as one cohesive and organised force!”