One of my last performances before becoming a police officer was at the Contact Theatre in Manchester, in a production for NITRO (the Black Theatre Co-operative). The show then toured.
Having left the police, earlier this year I received an email from Nitro about auditioning for one of its collaborative productions called “Exhibit B”. It was something I considered.
But in hindsight, something I considered not knowing the full background to the production. I mean, the information from Nitro didn’t give much away. It makes sense now.
Exhibit B has been and is controversial, why?
Well, because it is a production that shows black people caged in a “human zoo”.
I’m all for art, but rightly black people from all walks of life have been up in arms.
In 2014, is it really art to produce such a production when the past still haunts the present generation?
The answer simply is, no.
Yes, let’s make controversial and innovative works of arts but there was something sinister about Exhibit B.
This wasn’t just about black actors in various poses including shackled and standing motionless, or that it was conceived by a white South African director; Brett Bailey.
The production was just a grave error, on so many levels.
I say this as a current artist, and black person.
In a statement, the Barbican says ‘Exhibit B’ raises issues around racism. They’re not joking, and that’s why London’s black community and beyond have been complaining, petitioning and protesting – lawfully, I might add.
The organiser of the petition Sara Myers hit the nail on the head, saying … “If Brett Bailey is trying to make a point about slavery this is not the way to do it.” It’s not.
As someone who has travelled the world and seen the horrors of the past in the present, there are better ways to raise awareness. I’ve been to Cambodia and seen exhibits there, and never once thought “tasteless”.
In one of its last statements released before cancelling the shows run due to the protests and objections by the black community, the Barbican said the exhibit “aims to confront the objectification of human beings… and to question how far society has moved on”.
Given the production carried on regardless, we really haven’t come that far.
I hear politicians including Nick Clegg (apparently, a Liberal) have backed the ‘Human Zoo’, so that’s okay then.
Maybe, we should cage him!?
Take care, Max.