“BOYCOTT THE HUMAN ZOO!” – A public demonstration opposing the Barbican Centre’s endorsement of Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B’ in London

Activists publicly demonstrating opposition to Brett Bailey's 'Exhibit B-Human Zoo', outside the Guildhall in central London. Date:  11th September 2014.
Activists publicly demonstrating opposition to Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B-Human Zoo’, outside the Guildhall in central London. Date: 11th September 2014.

I was pleased to show solidarity with a small but vociferous group of anti-racist arts activists who turned out in central London to call for a boycott of Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B –  Human Zoo’ installation project today.

Publicity poster for the campaign to boycott the Barbican and Brett Bailey's 'Exhibit B-Human Zoo' installation at the Vaults in London (23-27 Sept. 2014). Source: http://boycotthumanzoouk.com/
Publicity poster for the campaign to boycott the Barbican and Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B-Human Zoo’ installation at the Vaults in London (23-27 Sept. 2014). Source: http://boycotthumanzoouk.com/

Followers of this blog who’ve already read my earlier post about the Barbican Centre’s endorsement of this controversial ‘live performance’ initiative will know that I am currently one of more than 19,700 signatories (and counting!) to a petition calling for it to be boycotted during its London run, from 23rd – 27th September  2014.

The reasoning behind my stance – framed by prior research into the traumatic histories and legacies of 19th– and early 20th-century Euro-American ‘Human Zoos’ and ‘World’s Fairs’ – has already been detailed at length (here). However, what I will go further to add in this follow-up piece is to say … I fully respect the right of any person to express “artistic freedom” but, by the same token, I also expect a reciprocal awareness and acknowledgement of my right to publicly demonstrate my objections, especially if I believe the nature of that creative expression undermines the successful pursuit of more effective and appropriate anti-racist, educational pedagogies and practices in the UK’s arts and culture sector.

Campaign organiser Sara Myers thanking participants for supporting the Guildhall demonstration. Photo: Carol Dixon.
Campaign organiser Sara Myers thanking participants for supporting the Guildhall demonstration on 11th September 2014. Photo: Carol Dixon.

It felt right, and was also necessary, to be out on the street in numbers, distributing leaflets and voicing objections to Brett Bailey’s work being promoted by the Barbican (one of the capital’s most prestigious arts institutes). We made a point of standing at the West Wing entrance to the Corporation of London’s symbolic Guildhall and vocalised our opposition to this exploitative, insensitive, under-researched, poorly consulted and ill-informed ‘live performance’ project.

Promotional poster advocating a boycott of the 'Exhibit B-Human Zoo' project.
Promotional poster advocating a boycott of the ‘Exhibit B-Human Zoo’ project.

Further public activities opposing ‘Exhibit B’ are scheduled to take place in London in the run up to its launch on 23rd of September, and are detailed online at the campaign site http://boycotthumanzoouk.com/human-zoo-the-show-must-not-go-on/

Additional information: The coalition of campaigning organisations, and individual anti-racist activists, leading and supporting this campaign include:

  • Sara (Sar’z) Myers – initiator and author of the Change.org petition 
  • BARAC UK (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts)
  • LIGALI (Pan-African Human Rights Organisation, specifically working to challenge the misrepresentation of African people, culture and history in the British media)
  • OBU (Organisation of Black Unity)
  • OBV (Operation Black Vote)
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Carol Dixon

Carol Dixon is a teacher, education consultant and academic researcher interested in African and Caribbean diaspora histories and heritage, cultural geography, museology and contemporary visual art. Her recently completed PhD dissertation is titled "The 'othering' of Africa and its diasporas in Western museum practices" (University of Sheffield, UK).

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