Following an extremely hard-fought and impassioned anti-racism campaign led by journalist and rights activist Sara Myers, the senior management team of the Barbicanarts centre issued a formal statement on Tuesday 23rd September to confirm their cancellation of the controversial installation ‘Exhibit B – Third World Bunfight’ by South African ‘artist’ Brett Bailey, which was scheduled for display at the Vaults in central London from 23rd-27th September 2014.
“We respect people’s right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners …We believe this piece should be shown in London and are disturbed at the potential implications this silencing of artists and performers has for freedom of expression.”
(Source: http://www.barbican.org.uk/ – News Release, dated 23 September 2014).
Despite closing down the event, the Barbican have continued to reiterate that they consider ‘Exhibit B’ to be an important piece of anti-racist performance art which “critiques the ‘human zoos’ and ethnographic displays that showed Africans as objects of scientific curiosity through the 19th and early 20th centuries.” However, the nature of the live performance tableaux featured in this work – which present male and female actors of African descent shackled, enchained and imprisoned in cages with labels stating, “The blacks have been fed” – has led thousands of people (myself included) to question whether this (so called) performance art piece merely reinforces the barbarity and inhumanity of past colonial exhibiting practices in ‘Human Zoos’ without actually doing anything to challenge them, and (more importantly still) fails to achieve any anti-racist outcomes that have the potential to make life better for the communities of people still living with the impacts and legacies of that violent and traumatic history.
“How can we transform the ways in which identity is conceived so that identities do not emerge and function only through the oppression and subordination of other social identities?” – Elizabeth Grosz (2011). Source: Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Grosz, 2011: 89)
“The War on Black Bodies” (Part 1) – the debate in New York
On the 9th September 2014 I went online to view the live stream of a panel discussion and Q&A about racialized policing in the USA – titled, “The War on Black Bodies,” held at the Schomburg (Center for Research in Black Culture) in Harlem, New York (see: American Policing: The War on Black Bodies)* The ‘Town-Hall-style’ forum was moderated by the Schomburg’s Education Associate, Joel Diaz, and featured contributions from Khalil Muhammad (Schomburg Center Director), historian and journalist Jelani Cobb, rights activist Claudia De La Cruz (Founder of Da Urban Butterflies) and activist Darnell Moore (organiser of the Black Lives Matter campaign).
Anyone who saw the Guardian’s recent Edinburgh Festival review of Brett Bailey’s controversial installation ‘Exhibit B’ – featuring African men and women sitting inside cages, with labels stating “The blacks have been fed”, and others chained to chairs and beds in equally dehumanizing poses (seemingly to challenge audiences to reflect on the brutalities of European racism throughout the colonial era, and to specifically critique the violent practices and enduring legacies of the 19th century “human zoos”) – might be interested in the online petition that has been established to oppose and boycott its forthcoming display at the Barbican Centre in London (23rd – 27th September 2014).