Exhibit B row intensifies as Barbican hits back at anti-racism campaigners

Art show cancelled after protest accuses it of racism

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The Independent Culture

The stars of a controversial anti-racist theatrical work which features black people in chains have attacked the protesters who have forced them off stage - saying the censorship is “insane” and “shocking” in the 21st Century.

Exhibit B was due to open at The Vaults venue in London on Tuesday night, but was cancelled over safety fears after hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside. The entire run of the Barbican production has now been cancelled.

The theatrical installation was due to feature recreations of the human zoos of the 19th century where African tribesmen and women were displayed for European and American audiences. The Barbican says the scenes “confront abhorrent historical attitudes”, but the protesters allege they perpetuate racist attitudes.

Actors, free speech campaigners and cultural commentators today turned their fire on the “illiberal” demonstrators.

Stella Odunlami, who played the role of a Nigerian asylum seeker in Exhibit B, told The Independent: “I think this is insane in 2014. I’m upset and angry. The protests claim the performers are puppets and have sold out, which I find deeply offensive.”

The 26-year-old, who is about to start a masters degree in post-colonial culture and global policy at Goldsmiths, added: “The protesters have censored me and silenced me. The sense of irony here is heavy.”

A spokesman for the Barbican called it “profoundly troubling” that pickets had been used to silence artists. “Audiences have been denied the opportunity to see this important work.”

Exhibit B has been shown in 12 cities around Europe and has been seen by about 25,000. It met with huge controversy in Berlin, but director Brett Bailey, a white South African, pointed to anti-racist campaigners in Amsterdam adopting it as an important in the battle against racism.

Kandy Rohmann, 34, who was due to play the hostess in the production, said: “It’s a travesty. The aggression has been shocking. I am upset, angry and disappointed in London and as someone with Caribbean heritage. It’s really sad; it was such a wonderful opportunity for minority performers.” Matthew Xia, associate artistic director at Manchester Royal Exchange who saw a dress rehearsal of the work, said: “The show isn’t racist; the Barbican would be insane to host a racist production or installation. What I find abhorrent is we have denied artists freedom of expression. The protestors must be allowed to stand outside and the art must be allowed to go on.”

The arrival of the work in London prompted outrage earlier this month. A petition against it received 23,000 signatures.

Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, said: “I’m glad it’s not beings shown. Nobody wanted this banned, but we wanted them to think again.” Lord Boateng, poet and artist Akala and Lee Jasper, co-chair of anti-racism and anti-cuts activist group Barac were among those backing the protests.

But Tiffany Jenkins, cultural sociologist and commentator, said: “I think it is illiberal to force it off the stage and arrogant that a select group of people can dictate what people can and cannot see. They are silencing the actors taking part. I think it’s dangerous.”

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