Exhibit B: 'Racist' human zoo installation criticised by protesters outside the Barbican

Show by white South African artist Brett Bailey presents black actors on display

Protesters took to the streets over the weekend to march against a “racist” exhibition due to open at the Barbican later this month.

Exhibit B, inspired by 19th and early 20th century “human zoos” in Europe and America, features black actors chained up and put on display in what is intended as a commentary on the horrors of the colonial era.

Created by white South African Brett Bailey, the work has already toured Europe and is due to arrive in the capital on 23 September.

However, the exhibition has been widely criticised for its objectification of black people. A petition on change.org calling for the withdrawal of the exhibition has attracted nearly 21,000 signatures. 

On Saturday, crowds gathered outside the Barbican in protest, holding placards bearing slogans including “I am somebody” and “I am not an object”.

Images of the demonstration were posted on social media alongside the hashtag #boycottthehumanzoo

Sara Myers, a Birmingham-based black activist and journalist who started the petition told The Independent that those going to see the work “are paying £20 to disrespect us”.

“This was a reality for our black African ancestors”, she said. “This is somebody’s pain. The ability to detach oneself from that comes from white privilege and supremacy.”

Myers accused the Barbican of not listening to “the voices of the black community who are saying: this is offensive, this is racism”.

Despite the recent protests, the Barbican plans to go ahead with the exhibition, which it describes on its website as a critique of "human zoos".

Toni Racklin, head of theatre at the Barbican, said he hoped the installation would "empower and educate rather than exploit".

In a statement, he said: “The Barbican made the decision to programme the work based on its artistic merit and we appreciate that the work tackles controversial and sensitive issues.

"How successfully the production does this is of course, as with any artwork, subjective, and we can only seek to assure those who have signed the petition that the piece aims to empower and educate rather than exploit…

“While we have made the decision to programme this work we are also currently exploring ways that we can hold a public discussion around the controversial issues raised by Exhibit B during its London run.”

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