As a brief for the critical studies section of my foundation art course I was asked to look up a recent exhibition by the artist Brett Bailey and offer an opinion on it. This particular exhibition was planned to have taken place between the 23rd of September and the 27th in the Barbican building in London. It was a performance art piece, and despite this recent censoring had had positive responses from most of the critics that had visited it (over the course of a 12 city tour, this is the first time a major protest has been made against it), Yet somehow it has garnered enough controversy to actually be cancelled in London. Those who protested generally had a problem with the exhibition’s portrayal of race, this caused such such high levels of protest by some that the exhibition actually had to be cancelled.
The exhibit with the offendimg piece in it (Exhibit B) actually consists of 12 adjoining places with African performers in each, they were all posisitoned within the exhibition to confront colonial atrocities committed in Africa and to illustrate certain events from the past, “human zoos” to be specific. Many felt that this raised major issues of racism.
I have thought long and hard about this and still I’m not sure how i feel about this exhibition, on one hand i can apprieciate that this is a highly upseting topic and should be approached with care and consideration which the exhibition certainly doesn’t do. On the other hand I do believe in freedom of speech, i don’t believe that this artist has designed this piece as a piece of racism to rub salt in the wounds, it is just a man raising awareness and drawing attention to an issue. Taking both of these factors into account I genuinely cannot make up my mind either way as to whether the piece should have been cancelled. A quote from the guardian reviewing this exhibition describes how i feel about it perfectly “Both unbearable and essential”.