Back in September our Dramaturgy class took sometime to talk about a performance art piece titled Exhibit B which had its opening night in London cancelled this September due to protests that arose around its content as you can read about here. After two successful days of being open in Paris the Gerard Philippe de Saint-Denis theatre was cancelled when around 100 protesters stormed the theatre.
This display by Brett Bailey have been dubbed a “human zoo” and are being considered racist by many people due to its content. Brett Bailey says that his piece is an anti-racist piece that shows the roots of racism as we know it. Protesters believe it is “A white author uses black bodies to talk to other whites about their feelings in relation to colonialism. And uses public funds in a multi-ethnic town to do so”. Bailey notes that his actors agree with the underlying message of the work.
Ultimately, whose opinion is more important?
I can’t really answer this question, but I can say that every time I see this piece appear in the media it is getting a strong, often angry, response. If that is the intent of the piece, than the piece is successful at what it does.
Bailey was quoted saying, ““Above all, we witness a dawning of awareness. This is why we keep doing this, and would keep on doing it, if we could.” in defense of his project. Does that really justify the outrage against it?
Regardless to whether or not it does the piece will continue in Paris this December, so keep it on your radar in the coming weeks.
Which brings me to the ultimate discussion I want to start which is, “When do we back down with our art?”
I have expressed this previously when I realized that not all places need more art, not even places I know could benefit from it. So the next question of when do I back down with my own art where it can be established is a reasonable next step. I can’t say for sure until I reach a point where my work is the center of conflict, but for now I can’t be sure.
Of course this raises the question of if I want to make the art that will be in the center of conflict, and again I cannot be sure. If I want to see change come from my art, there will of course be people opposed to it. In fact, regardless of what I do there will always be people who disagree with me. I just need to discover how heated a conflict I am willing to enter, and what conflicts I have a reason to be a part of.
As for Bailey, he is either incredibly brave and intelligent for continuing the work he is doing, trusting that its message will come across, or he is incredibly stupid for not seeing the message is lost and he is hurting people instead.