Uncompromising … an artist performs in Exhibit B at Playfair Library, Edinburgh.

Following a huge social media campaign as well as more than 200 demonstrators taking to the streets of London — a controversial art exhibition featuring Black actors in chains and cages was canceled.

Exhibit B, by South African director Brett Bailey, is a project based on the 19th century phenomenon of the human zoo by which Black slaves were displayed as museum objects to white Europeans and Americans. The exhibition intended to tell stories of African slaves and asylum hunters under British colonialism with the help of Black actors in a series of live scenes.

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The 12-scene exhibit included a Black woman shackled to a bed and a Black man in a metal mask, which Bailey stated was designed to recreate the horrors of slavery—the “human zoo phenomenon.”

The show had been featured in 12 cities prior to coming to London and has received positive reviews from critics. However, Sara Myers, an activist from Birmingham, believes the human zoo is an “ugly stain on European history.” Meyers launched a “Boycott the Human Zoo” campaign, which garnered international attention.

On Tuesday, more than 200 demonstrators took to underground tunnels by Waterloo station. As a result, London’s Barbican Centre was forced to cancel the show.

Bailey defended himself via Facebook post yesterday. Part of it reads:

“EXHIBIT B is not primarily a work about colonial-era violence. Its main focus is current racist and xenophobic policies in the EU and how these have evolved from the scientifically legitimised and state-sanctioned racism of the late 19th century. These policies do not exist in historical isolation. They have been shaped over centuries. The dehumanizing stereotypes of Otherness instilled in the consciousness of our ancestors have been transmitted subconsciously and insidiously through the ages. EXHIBIT B demands that we interrogate representations that to so many people still appear innocent.”

A statement from the gallery reads:

“Last night as Exhibit B was opening at the Vaults it became impossible for us to continue with the show because of the extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff. Given that protests are scheduled for future performances of Exhibit B we have had no choice but to cancel all performances of the piece.

“We find it profoundly troubling that such methods have been used to silence artists and performers and that audiences have been denied the opportunity to see this important work. Exhibit B raises, in a serious and responsible manner, issues about racism; it has previously been shown in 12 cities, involved 150 performers and been seen by around 25,000 people with the responses from participants, audiences and critics alike being overwhelmingly positive.”

When it was announced the show and future performances were cancelled, #boycottthehumanzoo protestors expressed their enthusiasm via Twitter.

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  • bullshit

    here we go again, with blacks jumping on wrong bandwagon.

    I happen to live in South London and I ask why black people have never protested the land grab which we have witnessed by labour councils, which are evicting black people who have voted them in.

    you are censoring free speech, should we have politically correct art?

    The irony is slavery is in on the card, if you allow land grabs, you will not object when they come for your freedoms.

    misguided, logically correct, sideshow.

  • Dee

    Thank God, this was cancelled.

    I’m a Black Londoner who wonders why it is that only certain aspects of Black People’s gloriously rich and multi-faceted experiences are deemed worthy of being highlighted….again and again and again. I see that some Norwegian Artists have also recreated a “Human Zoo” to (apparently) open a dialogue on racism. Hmmm….

    My own thoughts are that we could achieve a whole heap more to open up such a dialogue, should we set into motion a thorough and wide-ranging review of the doctrine of white supremacy including its origins, its adherents past and present, and the many uses to which it has been put including during the “Great Scramble for Africa”.

    Perhaps, some especially inspired artist could pull together a live installation (I’m sure the Barbican would be interested…) featuring White actors in various settings, portraying the men behind this doctrine of white supremacy story.

    Well done to Sara Myers who organised the petition that set the ball rolling. Thank you for caring enough to take the time and trouble to rally others to the cause.

    http://www.change.org/p/withdraw-the-racist-exhibition-exhibition-b-the-human-zoo

  • Dee

    Oops!

    Meant to type “supremacism” rather than “supremacy”, above.