The theme of the Black Studies Association annual conference is “The Black Special Relationship: The US influence on British Black Studies.” This two-day event takes place at Birmingham City University, 30-31 October 2015, and its programme is concerned with an examination of ways in which Black British intellectual life has been influenced by African-American scholarship – both in terms of the past histories and present-day narratives of Black populations in the UK and the wider African diaspora.
October 2015 will also mark 70th anniversary of the 5th Pan African Congress held in Manchester in 1945 where key global political activists and intellectuals including Amy Ashwood Garvey, W. E B. Dubois, Ras Makonnen, Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah, came together to discuss global and local strategies to dismantle racialised discrimination, colonialism and European imperialism. Black intellectual thought in Britain has historically drawn upon these intellectual trajectories that have travelled across and through African diasporas. Yet more recently, it is through the predominance of African-American intellectual thought and scholarship that African diasporas in the UK have engaged with ideas of blackness, Black studies, race and racism.
In addition to keynote presentations from internationally renowned scholars such as Professor Patricia Hill Collins, Associate Professor Barnor Hesse, Professor Gus John and Professor Denise Ferreira De Silva, the BSA are inviting academics and activists to submit papers for the proposed panel debates which address topics and themes such as (but not limited to): Black feminist activism and scholarship; Pan-Africanism in Britain; Community organising and activism; Blackness, sexualities and sexual politics; The legacy of ‘New Ethnicities’; Neoliberalism, colonialism, imperialism; Education; Faith, theology, religion and blackness; Black space, black geographies; African centred thought; and African diasporic borders.
How timely to be currently on a research trip in Paris just as the campaign against the presentation of Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B’ (Human Zoo) installation is taking shape and gaining momentum in the French capital.
Over the past few days I have been inspired by the passion and commitment of the Parisian campaign organisers “Collectif CONTRE-Exhibit B” – a recently established collective of writers, artists and political activists who are working tirelessly to spread the word about the problematic content of Brett Bailey’s live performance project so that prospective audiences will not attend… and also to alert the wider public in France about the inappropriate, inaccurate, insensitive and offensive content in this (so called) theatre arts piece (NB: Please see my earlier blog posts for a description about the content of ‘Exhibit B’ here).
Many high-profile academics, cultural commentators, writers and performance artists – including the celebrated French-language novelist (of Guadeloupean heritage) Maryse Condé, the political scientist Professor Françoise Vergès, and the French songwriter and recording artist Bams – have added their names and voices to the ‘anti-Exhibit B’ campaign, and are helping to communicate a strong and unified perspective about how dangerous it is for an ill-informed theatre director like Brett Bailey to pursue a project dealing with the physical violence, psychological traumas and painful legacies of past 19th century colonial racisms by falsely depicting African people as silent and passive participants in this historical narrative. Continue reading “Collectif CONTRE-Exhibit B”: The campaign against Brett Bailey’s ‘Human Zoo’ installation gains pace in Paris…
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).
The following article written by art historian Yvette Greslé presents a very detailed, beautifully written and carefully considered critique of Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B’ project – which also (in turn) cites curator and academic Okwui Enwezor’s well-informed words of wisdom: “Despite the sincerity of the artists who have brazenly maintained a relationship in their work with the black body, there is a certain over-determination that accompanies their gestures. They seem to neglect the fact that the black form is as much a grotesque bearer of traumatised experiences as it is the abject vessel of race as a point of differentiation. More than alerting us to how the stereotype fixes its objects of desire in that freeze-frame of realism, as prior knowledge, the work of these artists exacerbates the stereotype by replaying it, perhaps unconsciously, as if it had always been factual.”…