Gallery under pressure to withdraw 'racist' Human Zoo exhibition

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A petition calling on the Barbican to withdraw a "racist" exhibition showing caged black actors dressed up as slaves has gained more than 7,000 signatures in just over a week.

Exhibit B - The Human Zoo by white South African artist Brett Bailey is based on real life human zoos where African people were put on display, sometimes next to animals, for the enjoyment of European and American audiences.

Mr Bailey's installation has already gone on display at the Edinburgh festival, and is coming to London next month. It features black performers in the roles of slaves who were once in human zoos, including a topless woman in shackles.

In publicity for the exhibition the Barbican say the art "confront[s] colonial atrocities committed in Africa, European notions of racial supremacy and the plight of immigrants today" and in a statement they said the piece aims to "empower and educate rather than exploit".

But Sara Myers, the Birmingham based black activist and journalist who started the petition on told i100 those going to see the work "are paying £20 to disrespect us".

"This was a reality for our black African ancestors", she said. "This is somebody's pain. The ability to detach oneself from that comes from white privilege and supremacy."

She accused the Barbican of not listening to "the voices of the black community who are saying: this is offensive, this is racism".

Ms Meyers said she planned to protest against the exhibition if it was not withdrawn, adding: "It's not about trying to censor art it's about challenging racism and calling it what it is."

She said she had been in contact with the Barbican but did not get further than a generic response from the theatre.

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre at the Barbican said in a statement to i100:

"The Barbican made the decision to programme the work based on its artistic merit and we appreciate that the work tackles controversial and sensitive issues. How successfully the production does this is of course, as with any artwork, subjective, and we can only seek to assure those who have signed the petition that the piece aims to empower and educate rather than exploit...

"While we have made the decision to programme this work we are also currently exploring ways that we can hold a public discussion around the controversial issues raised by Exhibit B during its London run."

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