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Campaigners: 'We shut Barbican’s "human zoo" down'

'PEOPLE POWER': Campaigners celebrate their victory

CAMPAIGNERS ARE celebrating after their demonstration on the opening night of the Barbican’s controversial ‘human zoo’ led to the show being cancelled.

Approximately 100 people playing drums and chanting blockaded the entrance to exhibition space The Vaults, near Waterloo, as doors opened for white South African artist Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B.

The disruption prompted Barbican officials to cancel the show over the coming week as protesters had vowed to demonstrate every day for its duration.

In a victory speech, Sara Myers, who led the Boycott the Human Zoo campaign, said: “We showed them the show will not go on and we shut it down. We shut it down.

“Our ancestors would be proud. Their memory will not be used for art.”

A statement published by the Barbican today read: "Last night as Exhibit B was opening at the Vaults it became impossible for us to continue with the show because of the extreme nature of the protest and the serious threat to the safety of performers, audiences and staff.

"Given that protests are scheduled for future performances of Exhibit B we have had no choice but to cancel all performances of the piece."

The statement was met with anger from protesters who maintained that their demonstration was non-violent.

Paul Lawrence, the outgoing vice president of mentorship charity 100 Black Men of London, said: “I know for a fact, because I was there, that the press release by a Barbican spokesman – and now quoted in the pages of several news outlets…is a lie.

"Were we loud? Yes. Were we determined? Yes. Did we stand our ground? Yes. Were we upset? Yes. Did people go in to see the "show"? Yes. Was anyone harmed? No. The real reason why the Barbican had to shut the show down is much more simple: they completely underestimated the depth of feeling in the community."

Police officers, who sealed off the entrance, confirmed that crowds dispersed when officer arrived and said no arrests were made.

Nearly 23,000 people signed the petition calling on the Barbican’s chief, Sir Nicholas Kenyon, to axe the installation, which features black actors recreating ‘human zoos’ of the 19th Century to retell stories of slavery and colonialism.

It won rave reviews when it went on show at the Edinburgh Festival earlier this year.

Signatories against its London showing included academics and lecturers from universities across the UK including Newcastle, Warwick, Birmingham City and York.

In a statement, Myers said today: "What began as an online petition requesting that the exhibition be withdrawn was concluded with a fantastic display of people power.

"Boycott the Human Zoo not only successfully prevented the event taking place but uncovered a deeper problem within the Barbican. Each time the campaign was addressed, Barbican, Brett Bailey and their supporters, relied on the stereotypical misconceptions of the black community to preserve their position. Campaigners were branded uneducated, lacking in culture and described as a ‘baying mob’ by the artist himself."

She added: "Exhibit B revealed that the art industry is riddled with white privilege and elitism, the very issues the exhibit was said to challenge."

The Barbican's board is all-white with the exception of Trevor Philips, the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The Barbican statement added: “We respect people's right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners.

"We believe this piece should be shown in London and are disturbed at the potential implications this silencing of artists and performers has for freedom of expression.”

Watch some of the reaction to the protest:

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