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Barbican cancels ‘racist’ art installation featuring chained black actors following ‘extreme’ protests

The Barbican, which has cancelled the run of Exhibit B following protests. Photo: Nevilley
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The Barbican has cancelled performances of an art installation featuring chained black actors following protests outside the Waterloo venue it was due to be shown at.

Exhibit B came under attack for its alleged racist portrayal of black African people, with campaigners demanding its withdrawal from the Barbican programme.

The Barbican confirmed today that it had been forced to cancel the remaining performances due to “the extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff”.

It had programmed the show to run from September 23 to 27 at The Vaults beneath Waterloo station in London, but had already cancelled the first show last night out of concerns for performers, audience members and staff owing to demonstrations outside the venue.

Exhibit B – conceived and directed by South African director Brett Bailey – is described by the Barbican as critiquing the ‘human zoos’ from the 19th and 20th centuries.

However, campaigners have described the piece as racist and a petition, signed by almost 23,000 people, demanded the venue withdraw it from its programme.

A Barbican spokesman said today: “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 spokesman said the Barbican had tried to ensure the show could go ahead by speaking with the protestors, meeting with leaders of the campaign and attending a public debate on the issue at Theatre Royal Stratford East on September 22.

Sara Myers, who launched the petition calling for the withdrawal of Exhibit B, said today that the cancellation of the show was a victory for campaigners against racism.

She added: “#boycottthehumanzoo [the hashtag being used by the campaigners on social media] would like to make it clear that at no point during the protest was anyone hurt or threatened. Police attended the scene after reports of violence, but seeing that the blockade remained peaceful, made no arrests.”

A spokeswoman for black-led music theatre company Nitro, which helped the Barbican to cast the London run of Exhibit B and has previously defended the show, said today: “We will be working with the Barbican to provide further platforms that focus on the lessons and legacy of Exhibit B and to positively influence the support of diverse artists and the practices of the sector as a whole.”

At this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Israeli theatre company Incubator was also forced to cancel the run of its show, following protests outside the venue it was being performed at. Campaigners objected to performances of The City – described as a hip hop opera – because Incubator is partly funded by the Israeli government.

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