The Current

Exhibit B 'human zoo' sparks art and censorship controversy

Art installation "Exhibit B" is being met with protests wherever it goes. Supporters say it's a powerful piece, illuminating the horrors of the past. Critics say it's racist and harmful. The Toronto Luminato Festival is not planning to show Exhibit B but has invited a panel from the black community to discuss it.
Is Exhibit B subjugating black people or opening up a dialogue about race? (Barbican/© Sofie Knijff)

"I'm interested in beauty and the objectification of people, turning them into beautiful objects, I'm very interested in the seductive quality of beauty but also what lies behind the beauty, the horror that's there." - Brett Bailey, Exhibit B Artist

(Barbican/© Sofie Knijff)

Brett Bailey is a white, South African artist. His show, "Exhibit B" is a work of art involving live, black actors recreating disturbing scenes from black history... such as being literally shackled in chains. Show-goers look on, as if the people on display were just objects in a museum. Though they do make eye contact back.

(Barbican/© Sofie Knijff)

According to the artist, "Exhibit B" is meant as a nod to the so-called "Human Zoos" which are an actual artifact of colonial history. But in the present day, "Exhibit B" has drawn a huge amount of protest. When a London institution, the Barbican, planned to show it last year, it ended up canceling because of protests.

The Canadian arts festival, Luminato, in Toronto, considered bringing "Exhibit B" to Canada... but decided against it. Instead it will convene a meeting later this week to discuss "Exhibit B" and the issues it raises.

Today, we wanted to convene our own discussion about the value of a work like "Exhibit B."

  • Kim Milan is a writer, artist and Executive Director and Co-Founder at The People Project in New York City .
  • Blake Gopnik is a regular contributor to The New York Times and he's also a critic for Artnet News
  • Michael Prokopow teaches the history of objects and cultural theory at OCAD University. He joined us in our Toronto studio. 

(Barbican/© Sofie Knijff)

Would you want the chance to see Exhibit B or is it best shut out?  
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​This segment was producecd by The Current's Sujata Berry and Samira Moyheddin.