Is BRETT BAILEY’s 'EXHIBIT B' thought provoking or racist?

'Dr Fischer's Cabinet of Curiosities' - EXHIBIT B - photo by Ada Nieuwendijk Jozi Style

EXHIBIT B, by South African artist Brett Bailey, has been branded as racist by campaigners in London. A petition has been signed by thousands of people calling for the show to be axed at the Barbican where it is scheduled to run between 23 and 27 September 2014. EXHIBIT B looks at the atrocities committed by colonial forces in German South West Africa and in the Belgian and French Congos, the plight of African immigrants living in and deported from Europe- the cold horror of Apartheid. The Holland Festival (2013) included an installation referencing the colonial and slaving histories of the Netherlands.

The following statement is the official response from the board members of Bailey’s Third World Bunfight company: ‘As the Board of Third World Bunfight we wish to express our unqualified support for the work of director Brett Bailey. The mission of this theatre company is to produce diverse works that are thought-provoking and challenging; in particular, opening the eyes of the world to post-colonial Africa and this continent’s relationship with the West, both present and past.

As a consequence of sensational and inaccurate articles in the media, Bailey has come under vicious attack for EXHIBIT B, one of the works in the company’s current repertoire. This work is brave, deeply layered and well considered both in presentation and choice of subject matter. Bailey took many years to formulate it. He did years of detailed and thorough research. Together with the performers of the work, he has carefully worked through and addressed the many controversial, painful and difficult issues the performance of such a work raises. The Board is absolutely convinced that the work is not racist. This Board would never support racism.

We are deeply disturbed by the invective and vitriol levelled on social media at the performers and Brett. We find it painful and staggeringly ironical that a work that shattered many European patrons by holding up a mirror to their colonial past and its continuing legacy, finds itself under attack by critics who ostensibly share the same goals as Brett Bailey and this company.

Bailey and the performers of this work have reflected on the production and considered the views of its detractors. Their belief in the work has been reaffirmed. Performers in Edinburgh, London, and many of those who have performed in the work in other centers have sent letters of support and are standing firmly with Bailey. We salute Brett Bailey for his intelligent approach in creating and presenting EXHIBIT B and thank the various Production houses and Theatre companies across Europe for hosting and supporting this illuminating work’.     –  Board members Fran Cox, Brent Meersman, Daniel Malatji, Robin Jutzen, Marie-Lou Gillespie and Barbara Mathers.

About Third World Bunfight

THIRD WORLD BUNFIGHT (‘TWB’) is a company that has maintained its position at the forefront of South African performance throughout its eighteen year history. The company is directed Brett Bailey and managed by Barbara Mathers. TWB has a mission to create and present groundbreaking, multi-layered, deeply considered performance and installation works of excellence, both locally and internationally. Works that show the beauty, the wonder, the darkness and the tragedy of our world. Our belief in the potential of art and performance to activate people, energise depressed situations, integrate the marginalised, transform and heal, underlies our ethos. Our works foreground issues, stories and situations that are all too often overlooked, suppressed or ignored. They unpack and expose the machinations of power that crush so many people or render them voiceless.  Our main focus areas are the post-colonial situation in Africa, and historical and contemporary relations between Africa and the West. We have a strong orientation towards fostering and exposing the talents of both performers and non-performers from disadvantaged and previously disadvantaged communities. We have have trained and worked with several thousand performers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Haiti and Europe. We are fiercely proud of who we are, where we come from, and our right to light on the world’s stages. TWB is a Non-Profit Organisation as defined in NPO Act 71 of 1997.

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