It takes a lot of confidence to be this ridiculous.
If you are tired of hearing about what your ancestors did to mine/
I can tell you a million and four times/
That I am tired of discussing it/
And living with the consequences/
Of a continuous genocide.
This August, whilst I was vacationing in Edinburgh, I discovered that a Human Zoo was touring the UK. This zoo, full of African actors, curated by a white South African artist named Brett Bailey, had just been shown in Edinburgh and was now coming to London. At this time, a part of me was convinced that the people of London would not let this happen and that the Barbican would eventually fold under the inevitable pressure, outrage, and criticism. Unfortunately the Barbican is still going ahead with their Human Zoo and for those that have paid the £20.00 plus booking fee for the privilege, doors open tomorrow (Tuesday 23rd September) and will stay open until the Saturday 27th September 2014.
Despite outrage from over 22,000 people who signed the main petition; despite articles like this by Akala, which explain why this exhibition is ‘a masturbation of white guilt’; despite calls to boycott this parody by people like Dr. Kehinde Andrews; and despite protests, the arrogance and greed of institutions that more often than not cater to white, privileged audiences superceded these efforts. The Barbican have attempted to justify their decision to go ahead with Exhibit B by calling it educational, however they have not released any free tickets to local schools with a high percentage of Afro-Caribbean students (they have released no free tickets to any schools at all) and they did not reach out to any members of the black community at any stage in the planning process. They have not taken the time to listen to the concerns coming from the community which this exhibition most concerns.
Through my frustration, anger, disappointment, and sadness that once again the history of my people is being exploited; that we are being caged and muzzled once again; that it is being taught that all we have been are slaves and victims; that black bodies are being devoured and abused in such a way once more; that black people are playing a part in their own oppression once again, this time centre stage as part of a Human Zoo, I have found strength in the united front shown by we, those who oppose this exhibition. I have been proud that hundreds of people marched the streets of London to show that we will not tolerate exploitation and we will not be quiet in our indignation – we demand to be heard, and heard in our masses. I have found comfort in poetry and my pen and paper.
There is beauty in dark places/
Comets, mysteries, and meteors/
But there is also fear/
Fear when you close your eyes/
Fear of all the things you cannot see/
But you know are there./
And this is why you are terrified/
That once again we will rise/
So you remind us/
That we are animals.
This poem is for all those that say ‘it’s just art’. These words are for those that tell me I should not be offended and I am being over-sensitive. These rhymes are for those that derail the conversation and cry out ‘it’s not all white people’ and argue that ‘other races would not complain’. This is for those that claim that ‘slavery is world history’ and so we all have a right to tell the story. These bars are for every single one of you who ‘do not see colour’. You are the problem.
However, no matter what, I was born free and you will never chain me.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Tuesday 23rd September 2013 – WE HAVE WON.
We have been made aware that this ABOMINATION will no longer be taking place. After pressure from protesters and over 23,000 signatures from people who have been disgusted by this parody of human flesh, the people have won this fight. Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B will NOT be shown at The Barbican in London.
Although we have received no apology and no remorse has been shown, this is a triumph for protest culture.
Let us take this victory and move forward with the spirit of activism in the many more battles to come. This time, we managed to stomp on white supremacy and challenge arrogance, greed, and the determination to exploit a people. Black bodies do not exist for your curiosity. Black bodies do not exist for your entertainment. Black bodies do not exist to be devoured, abused, and humiliated once again. Black people were not born free to then end up in chains. And most importantly, we are NOT Exhibit B or exhibit anything at all. We are human beings for goodness sake and for that to have to be said in 2014 is disturbing and disgusting.
A HUGE THANK YOU and CONGRATULATIONS to Sarah Myers, the woman who started the Change. org petition that was handed to the Barbican today. Congratulations to all those who signed, all those who marched the streets of London, all those who sent their solidarity and support from far and wide, and all those who tweeted and utlised social media to get this message out there. When we come together, we are powerful. Today our voices have been heard loud and clear and it is us, the people, not the Barbican, who SHUT DOWN the HUMAN ZOO.
Do not forget this victory. There will be more, similarly harrowing fights to fight but I hope this just shows what unity and consistency can do. Now as this ‘art’ moves to New York and Paris, we in London and supporters everywhere are looking at the communities in these places to also say no and to stand up for human decency. The international standard has now been set.
‘On our own, we are only human. Together, we are mankind.’