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7500 protest ‘Black People In Cages’ Exhibition

NO DIGNITY: Images from Exhibit B (pic: Sofie Knijff)

MORE THAN 7,500 people have signed a petition calling for London’s Barbican Theatre to withdraw an exhibition dubbed ‘racist’ by campaigners.

They are calling for the Theatre to remove Exhibit B, an exhibition by white South African artist Brett Bailey, which has been compared to the19th Century when black people were displayed in zoos to amuse European audiences.

The exhibition, which has sparked protests and accusations of racism when it was shown in Edinburgh and mainland Europe, features live performers including a black man in a cage and a semi-naked woman with shackles around her neck.

Denouncing the exhibition as insulting, 7,300 people have signed an online petition calling for the show to be scrapped.

Despite protest, the Barbican has so far refused to get rid of the show, which is to take place between September 23 and 27.

Journalist and activist Sara Myers, who organised the online petition, compared the show to Sara ‘Saartjie’ Baartman, known as the Hottentot Venus, who was paraded naked in London a century ago, and Ota Benga, a Congolese ‘pygmy’ member of the Mbuti tribe, who was exhibited in a monkey house in New York’s Bronx zoo.

Myers said: “I campaign and work with my community to try to breakdown the stereotypes that black people have to struggle against in society on a daily basis.

"I want my children to grow up in a world where the barbaric things that happened to their ancestors are a thing of the past.

“We have come a long way since the days of the grotesque human zoo - we should not be taking steps back now.”

She added: “It’s outrageous and racist, a real throwback to the days of Sara Baartman when black people were seen as objects not human,” said Myers.

"Why not stick a white person in a cage and say ‘this is what it feels like to be oppressed and stripped of your dignity’?

"I’ve written to the Barbican and tweeted them but haven’t got a response. We want them to withdraw it and apologise to the black community for even considering this to be art."

Exhibit B features a black man in a cage, a semi-naked black woman shackled to the bed of French colonial officer, and a slowly revolving silhouette of Baartman.

If Brett Bailey is trying to make a point about slavery this is not the way to do it

The artist Bailey grew up in an affluent part of South Africa with black servants and was recently quoted in a national newspaper frequently using the N-word.

Toni Racklin, head of theatre at the Barbican, defended Bailey and called on critics to visit the exhibition to decide for themselves.

She said: "Brett Bailey is a highly regarded, internationally acclaimed South African theatre-maker. We believe in artists’ right to free expression and are proud to be bringing this important work to London.

"The piece questions how far society has moved on by holding up a mirror to the treatment of groups in contemporary society. The reaction from performers who have taken part has been very positive.

"We respect people’s right to express their viewpoint but would encourage them to see the work for themselves and come with an open mind."

Bailey himself responded to the criticisms. He said: "Exhibit B is not a piece about black histories made for white audiences. It is a piece about humanity; about a system of dehumanization that affects everybody within society, regardless of skin colour, ethnic or cultural background, that scours the humanity from the ‘looker’ and the ‘looked at’.

"A system that emphasizes difference rather than similarity. A system that gave birth to the hegemonic regime of separation in which I grew up, and which continues to haunt the people of my country. The kind of systems we need to guard against."

But petition supporters and campaigners have rejected Bailey’s and the Barbican’s explanations. Dalian Adofo wrote under the petition: "To highlight the legacy of European institutionalised racism via reminding us of this heinous 'exhibition' of human ignorance is frankly an insult!!!!"

Campaigner Zita Holbourne added: "This exhibition is vile, offensive & racist. It is not needed, wanted or appreciated. Shame on The Barbican for hosting it. It is an insult to black communities.

"I will be boycotting The Barbican as will many others if this exhibition is allowed to take place. 'Art' cannot be used to justify offence & racism."

Social rights activist and Pan-Africanist Toyin Agbetu, said: “Any racist exhibition that was offensive to African people in the past retains its potency to cause offence today. Why is it so hard for many to grasp this?

"Most would accept that it is inappropriate to broadcast a sitcom making light of life in holocaust prison camps. So why do they fail to recognise how vile it is to hold an exhibition that dehumanises African people for money and entertainment?”

See the petition here:

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