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27 Sep 2014 12:06
Theatre Director Brett Bailey can't believe how London, 'a global capital of democracy', has reacted to his works decrying objectification. (Franck Pennant, AFP)
Theatre director Brett Bailey, who recently had his
Exhibit B exhibition in London cancelled, feels that his right to address racism in his own creative way, as a white South African,
has been challenged. Bailey has released a statement following a campaign to
his exhibition, which depicts black people as artefacts in 12 live
tableaux vivants, shutdown.
In the statement Bailey says: “Those who have caused
to be shut down brand the work as racist.
They accuse me of exploiting my
“The vast majority of them have not
attended the work.” he says.
Mixed reactionsExhibit B has been
presented in 12 cities around Europe over the past four years. Earlier this
month Bailey told
M&G there was some controversy around Exhibit
in Berlin but that in other cities the exhibition sparked discussions
around racism and became a “rallying point for anti-racist activists.”
never before been a lightning conductor for outrage as it is in London,” he said. Bailey insists his intentions
Exhibit B were not to project “hatred, fear or prejudice”, but to “explore
the machinations of systems of racism and how they dehumanise all who are touched
The main focus of
Exhibit B, according to Bailey, “is
current racist and xenophobic policies in the EU, and how these have evolved
from the state-sanctioned racism of the late 19th century.”
Not only is he
accused of racism, but he has also been accused of exploiting
Exhibit B‘s performers. In the performance piece, the black actors stand/sit still in the
tableaux vivants, for hours while being stared at by spectators. Just like one
would do at a zoo.
“The rehearsals [for the performers] include exercises in
endurance, self-awareness and meditation. There is a lot of care, coaching and
compassion. I have testimonies from many of the 150 or so performers, who come
from all walks of life, class and professional status, about how valuable,
enriching and empowering the experience has been,” says Bailey in his
‘We are not objects’Exhibit B‘s performers responded to the controversy in a joint statement earlier this month. “As performers in Exhibit B, we stand perfectly still and
are stared at for hours.”
“The references to human zoos and ethnographic displays
in the media are a simple but narrow description of what we believe the show to
be. At first glance at the materials, it is easy to assume that we are nothing
but objects, repeating the worst of the racist and dehumanising aspects of the
human zoos referred to in the petition(s) to cancel the exhibition,” they said
in the statement.
“Standing, exhibited in this manner, we can state explicitly
that we are not objects during the exhibition. We are human, even more so when
performing. We find this piece to be a powerful tool in the fight against
racism. Individually, we chose to do this piece because art impacts people on a
deeper emotional level that can spark change.” they said.
Exhibit B has been referred to as a “vanity project”, an “unbearable”
“because of the suffering it depicts”. Campaigners claim to have collected 20 000 signatures on a protest petition
“I do not approve of bullying and censorship. I stand
against a few loud-mouthed people wielding so much power in the mistaken belief
that they are speaking for a silent majority - or saving the unenlightened.
This is dangerous for the arts and for society,” says Bailey.
“I shudder to
think that an artwork made in love against the hate of racism could spark a
violent riot. Do any of us really want to live in a society in which expression
is suppressed, banned, silenced, denied a platform?” he said.
“My work has been shut down
today, whose will be closed down tomorrow?”
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