‘Human zoo’ exhibition comes to Paris amid racism row

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Human Zoo

“Exhibit B”, an art show featuring black actors in cages which was cancelled by London’s famed Barbican Centre in September is set to open in teh French capital later this month sparking furious protests. The controversial work, created by white South African artist Brett Bailey, is supposed to be a thought-provoking look at the 19th-and 20th-century practice of exhibiting people from the colonies in human zoos for public amusement.

The exhibition is due to open at the Theatre Gerard Philipe at Saint Denis, and the Centquatre cultural centre in northern Paris at the end of November. Both venues are in areas with high non-white populations.

Bailey insists “Exhibit B” aims to improve awareness of the racism of Europe’s colonial past, while challenging viewers to question their role as voyeurs in contemporary human tragedies (one of the “tableaux” features a modern-day asylum seeker bound to an aeroplane seat with gaffer tape).

But not everyone agrees.

A petition has been launched in Paris – mirroring a successful appeal in the UK – for the exhibition to be cancelled on the grounds that it is just as racist as the colonial-era human zoos it purports to condemn.

“The idea that a human zoo of this type … can be used as a vehicle to reduce racism is ridiculous,” petition organisers – “Contre Exhibit B”  – wrote on appeals website change.org.

“This exhibition is an insult to the people living in the areas where the exhibition is to be shown who are forced to confront and understand racism on a daily basis.

“Freedom of expression is not a good enough justification for our cultural centres to put on this kind of horror show.”

Storm of protest

‘Exhibit B’ was shown in France in 2013 (at the Centquatre and the Avignon Festival), and again at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland in the summer of 2014, without any controversy.

When London’s Barbican announced it would run ‘Exhibit B’, it faced such a storm of protest and an online campaign that gained some 25,000 signatures that eventually convinced the Barbican to cancel the show.

Writing in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Birmingham City University sociology lecturer Dr Kehinde Andrews called ‘Exhibit B’ an example “of “art” that “offends, that crosses the line into racial exploitation and abuse, creating a grotesque parody of suffering played out by voiceless black cadavers”.

“If you pay to see it you are colluding in the worst kind of racial abuse; that which is done in the pretence (or worse, the belief) that it is progressive.”

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  • kuria

    its true youths we have to come out of our comfort zone and re-think

  • Mutiso Tha Camera-ist

    You’re on point Chris, but it’s not that easy.

    Issues regarding appropriate technology, labour productivity, cooperation, credit, marketing and extension services are crucial in all.
    You said that information is readily available, that’s true, but the main issue will remain that no one is willing to empower us, the youth to get into proper agribusinesses.
    Having done some horticulture for some time myself, I can say that the good old ‘agribusiness’ without marketing is just agriculture. What demotivates farmers from venturing into proper agribusinesses is the lack of proper marketing channels. Therefore such support mechanisms will have to be strengthened to tackle some of the challenges. Agribusiness will remain an endeavor filled with Risks and uncertainty and unless the farmer has enough motivation, they’ll continue farming maize and beans.

  • JeffMaingi

    Yes indeed Young people we need to take up farming

  • Lennox

    Kirubi, I agree with you on the role of digital media. I believe that its full capacity as a tool for empowerment not only in agriculture, but other sectors, has not been fully realized by the younger generation here in Kenya. For instance, digital media presents a great opportunity to build strong networks with investors, market watchers and consumers all over the world. Young people can leverage such networks to penetrate previously inaccessible markets or tap into vast amount of capital. With digital media, entrepreneurs are staring at an opportunity to leapfrog their ideas.

  • haru

    Sir, I must say you remain to challenge me each day to be more…I have so many questions in regards to entrepreneurship and how can i email you with these regard?

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