‘A guilty pleasure,’ ‘grotesque parody,’ ‘highly confrontational, but yet exquisitely beautiful,’ Exhibit B: Art That Shook Black Britain, captures the public outcry that followed one man, Brett Bailey, from South Africa to London.
Known for his radical explorations into post-colonial Africa, the white South African artist crafts exhibitions to his audience who span across the world, ‘turning the gaze back on Europeans’ he says, in order to challenge the atrocities of colonialism and slavery.
Exhibit B, the second in what was a three-part series of human installations featuring live black actors, was met with critical acclaim at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival, but when news broke that it was making its way to London’s Barbican Arts Centre in September last year, the Black community was outraged; sparking protests and national debates on an unimaginable scale.
On the surface #BoycottTheHumanZoo – the campaign that lit the match on this already volatile art offering, appeared to be an us versus them scenario – ‘them’ being the creators, the elite institutions and financial supporters of Bailey’s work and ’us’ – angry Black people. However what I found while researching is that the Black community were sincerely hurt; not only by the flippancy expressed by these art powerhouses but at their history being presented, yet again, by an outsider. To describe it simply as black and white would undermine the wider issues that arise, which could potentially compromise the entire arts industry. If artistic freedom is to remain intact, is there ever a place for censorship? Should there be boundary lines for fear of treading on another culture’s toes?
I spent one afternoon in London on the opening day of Exhibit B in search of conversations to help gauge public opinion. What became clear midway is that the answers remained elusive, but this event would become pivotal to future discussions in and around race, history and UK arts.
See below for further reading…
*Brett Bailey on his controversial art serial.
*VIDEO: Sara Myers calls for people to sign the petition.
*Nitro – the Arts organisation who casted the actors and models.
*Akala speaks out on the Huffington Post.
*The Barbican criticises the ‘extreme nature’ of protesters.
*The performers respond.