A controversial live installation by the South African theatre maker Brett Bailey has been cancelled following protests on its opening night. The performance, presented by the Barbican at the Vaults on Leake Street, London has been subject to ongoing protests, including a petition signed by over 20,000 people asking for it to be shut down.
Exhibit B has received acclaim for its critique of human zoos and 19th and 20th century colonial atrocities and racism. The high-profile petition and campaign to shut down Exhibit B has argued that the work is in itself racist and the Barbican’s decision to present it is a form of institutional racism.
Protestors active on twitter last night celebrated their protest as peaceful and described how a road blockade had shut down the performance on its opening night.
The Barbican stated that they had cancelled the performance after protests became out of hand and condemned the violent nature of the protest.
Impossible to continue
A spokesperson for the Barbican said: “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.
“The Barbican has done everything we can to ensure London performances can go ahead – including continued dialogue with protestors and senior Barbican staff meeting with the leaders of the campaign and attending a public meeting to discuss the issues raised by the work. 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.”
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Exhibit B and the Barbican: mono-cultural bias must be addressed by Julia Farrington
Exhibit B at Barbican: venue accused of ‘institutional racism’ by Chris Sharratt