Brett Bailey / Exhibit B

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Name of Art Work: Exhibit B
Artist/s: Brett Bailey
Date: September 2014
Venue: The Vaults, presented by The Barbican Centre
Brief description of the artwork/project: The Barbican’s publicity material described Exhibit B as: “a human installation that charts the colonial histories of various European countries during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when scientists formulated pseudo-scientific racial theories that continue to warp perceptions with horrific consequences.”[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”94431″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Why was it challenged? ” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]A campaign is formed in response to Exhibit B: Boycott the Human Zoo is a coalition of anti-racism activists, trade unions, artists, arts organisations and community groups. They set up an online petition which is signed by over 22,000 people, calling on the Barbican to decommission the work and withdraw it from their programme. The key objections named in the petition are:

  • “[It] is deeply offensive to recreate ‘the Maafa – great suffering’ of African People’s ancestors for a social experiment/process.
  • Offers no tangible positive social outcome to challenge racism and oppression.
  • Reinforces the negative imagery of African Peoples
  • Is not a piece for African Peoples, it is about African Peoples, however it was created with no consultation with African Peoples”

[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”What action was taken?” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]The Barbican issues a response to the petition, acknowledging that Exhibit B “has raised significant issues” but commenting that this is not a reason to cancel the performance. They accept the campaigners right to peaceful protest but ask that they “fully respect our performers’ right to perform and our audiences’ right to attend.” Campaigners are in communication with senior management at the Barbican, and they contact the police about their plan to picket the venue.  Kieron Vanstone, the director of the Vaults also contacts the British Transport Police – as they have jurisdiction over the Vaults – about the possibility of needing additional policing on the night. nitroBEAT, who had cast the show in London and took a leading role in mediating between the two ‘sides’ organises a debate at Theatre Royal Stratford East the night before the opening.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”What happened next?” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]On the opening night of the installation, just one of the two BTP PCs allocated to the picket attends. Protesters breach the barriers and block the doors to the venue. The PC on duty calls for backup officers. ACC Thomas reports “that ‘about’ 12 BTP officers and 50 Metropolitan Police Service Officers respond to these calls.” Vanstone describes a huge police presence, including riot police, dogs and helicopters overhead. When Inspector Nick Brandon, the BTP senior officer in charge asks what the campaign organisers want, they respond that they want the show to be closed down, or they will picket it every evening. Sara Myers of Boycott the Human Zoo reports that Brandon says “‘we need to be out fighting crime. This is much ado about nothing, and we haven’t got the resources to police it.” The Inspector recommends that Vanstone closes the show. In partnership with the Barbican, Vanstone agrees to do so. When the campaigners request written confirmation, the police officer ensures that the venue provides this. The installation is cancelled.[/vc_column_text][vc_custom_heading text=”Reflections” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]Louise Jeffreys Artistic Director, Barbican

The Barbican’s experience of Exhibit B was a catalyst for a significant amount of change within the organisation. The protests and eventual cancellations of performances led to us thinking deeply about a number of areas of our work, looking at how we could learn from this situation so we could continue to present challenging work and ensuring the experience we had didn’t contribute to an environment where organisations felt they couldn’t programme artists whose work deals with difficult subjects.

Our starting point was the belief that it was important that we remained an organisation willing to take risks and that we didn’t want to shy away from putting on work that invites discussion and debate. To do this we felt we needed to have the planning processes in place to ensure this kind of work could be presented safely, that we were confident about how it fitted into our wider programme, that we contextualise it in the right way and that we have clear, artistic reasons for programming it.

This work has included formalising our risk review process for our artistic programme; it involved us contributing to the development of What Next’s practical guidance for arts organisations on meeting ethical and reputational challenges; and it continued with the development of the Barbican’s first ethics policy, which we now use as a basis for making ethical decisions across areas such as programming, fundraising and partnerships.

Combined, these measures have all contributed to us becoming more confident in the work we present, encouraging a collaborative, organisation-wide approach to making difficult decisions, dealing with risk and investing in artists and works that deal with potentially controversial issues.

The Exhibit B experience also led to us further interrogating our approach to equality and inclusion. This led to positive changes such as the development of a new Equality and Inclusion strategy and the building of relationships with artists and companies who have added to the creative richness and relevance of our programme as we look to try and represent the widest possible range of human experiences on our stages, in our galleries and on our screens.

The cancellation also led us to think about how we work with the police, and the importance of their role in protecting free expression. At the time of the Exhibit B protests we felt we had no choice but to follow their advice when they recommended we cancel all future performances. I feel we’d question this kind of decision-making more now, with the work we’ve done since the closure making us much better informed on the legal framework around freedom of expression.

Sara Myers – Boycott The Human Zoo Campaign lead

At the time the black community was campaigning against so many things – deaths in police custody, acts of racism – and there never seemed to be any victory. I think the legacy of Exhibit B is that it gave a monumental landmark victory which we hadn’t had. In the last 30 years, this was the one thing that we won, the one time that our voices were heard and taken seriously. I know a lot of people were talking about censorship and not having an understanding of art, and I think all of that is irrelevant.  It was about not taking that narrative of our history, that slave narrative and keeping us boxed in there; we are more than that, and you will listen to us.

There were two camps, one called me a reincarnation of Stalin and the other thought I was going to be the new speaker for all things black.  But what people failed to realise was [while] I was the face of the campaign, I started the petition and led the campaign it was owned by the whole black community – pan-African, Christian, Muslim, LGBT, young, old, celebrities.

A lot more people began to speak out. In fact it went a bit crazy after Exhibt B, there were petitions about everything and everybody was calling everybody out and we got a lot of things taken down.  It birthed a lot of new activists and Exhibit B became a movement. The way [we used] social media, institutions don’t want that, they don’t want to be tagged and dragged for days on social media. Brett was challenged in Paris [where] people were tear-gassed and water-cannoned which was terrible. It went to Ireland, very much on the quiet, but there was not a very large black of mixed race community [where it went].  He tried to take it to Brazil and that got shut down. He tried to take it to Toronto, but it was [challenged} and it didn’t go there.]

Another legacy was that academics were talking about the whole campaign, whether positively or negatively. It  was a very controversial campaign and it opened up conversation about so many things – about racism, institutional racism, how an emerging black artist might not get a platform, but a potentially racist guy from South Africa might.  Who is censoring what? Who is at the helm of censorship? What about all the exhibitions that they haven’t put on? Is it us campaigning, peacefully protesting. Who owns the story? Also how the media reported it as a violent, angry mob, and yet there wasn’t one arrest.  How the Barbican didn’t take responsibility for the whole part they played in this.

For me personally – my claim to fame will be Exhibit B and that’s monumental. To know that I’m part of Black British History.  Maybe in Black History Month, they’ll have my picture and talk about what I did. And that’s great because I’ve got grandchildren and they’ll be able to see that.

I’m not saying that Brett isn’t a talented artist.  It was the imagery was traumatic for a community because it was not part of [our] ancient history. This is something  we live every day, down to deportations – in fact that there was one today people who have lived here all their lives deported back to Jamaica.   We are still living the ramifications of that, whereas Brett is quite removed from his colonial past. It also brought up a massive discussion about colonialism and the effects of colonialism today.

A detailed case study of the policing of the picket of Exhibit B is available here.

Stella Odunlami – actor, director, performer in Exhibit B (London, Ireland, South Korea and Estonia)

The piece arrived at a time of change. Those tensions around the idea of race and representation had always been there, but the squeeze of the government cuts to a lot of provision, particularly to black and minority backgrounds, were being felt. The rhetoric around our wonderful multi-cultural society was starting to fall away. It landed on a sore spot, places were pus had been building up under the surface.  All these conversations and interactions around the legacy and inherited histories that we are being forced to deal with at the moment – [it] brought all of that to the surface.

It has made me hyper aware of the lack of space and opportunity to have these conversations and how desperately we need them. We don’t speak of what the West did in Africa as a form of genocide.  Within the black community, whatever that may mean, people find it really hard to engage with conversations around race in public forums because the conversation always feels dishonest, because the ground zero hasn’t been reached. So when people talk about who makes art, access to art, access to funding and education we are never going back to the beginning to understand why that is.  

I still think it’s a beautiful, powerful piece. It opened up conversations; everybody who sees it is automatically implicated in some way or another.  You have to begin to confront your own relation to history, and that is something that we don’t do very often. I’m still trying to unpack my ideas around the existing theatre model and what theatres as cultural spaces are aiming to do. Very often the places that present this work are only interested in an economic model and don’t recognise or feel the wider responsibility.  It comes down to what are we demanding of our arts and cultural spaces, what we want from them.

Having taken the show to Ireland, to South Korea and Estonia, it surprised me how my concept of the show being linked explicitly to the European history of colonisation, was being refracted through different prisms. At around the time we were in Ireland, the story broke about many women in the early 1900s who had fallen pregnant to black men, had been held, and had their children taken away.  Mass burial sites uncovered these children who had been treated appallingly and had passed. This history had been repressed by the state and the church, echoes of that were only starting to be discussed. I was nervous before going to [Tallinn] because I had heard about incidents of violence against black African bodies there. There were a lot of students coming from Africa because there seem to be more scholarships and migration for education seems to be easier. They are having to think about migration, without following the western European model which hasn’t really worked. South Korea’s history with Japan brought those conversations to the fore. They had no idea about what had happened in these parts of the world and people came back with notepads, to take down the names, the places, the dates.

The last performance was in Tallinn, it was very hard, really sad.  We all felt such a responsibility for these stories, for them being shared and acknowledged. Whose stories are remembered, whose stories are told.  The weight of that responsibility, and the personal investment we all had in that, is huge.[/vc_column_text][three_column_post title=”Case Studies” full_width_heading=”true” category_id=”15471″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Julia Farrington talks art and censorship


Julia Farrington, associate arts producer at Index on Censorship, author of Index’s Art and the Law case studies and campaigns and events manager at Belarus Free Theatre, will discuss art and censorship at Hackney Wick at the independent bar and creative space Grow.

From the cancellation of performances like Exhibit B and Mimsy’s artwork Isis Threaten Sylvania to the role law can and should play in supporting the arts, this is an opportunity to get involved in a stimulating discussion within the creative community.

Grow is a space for music, art, conversation and community where everyone is welcome and there will be a range of drinks and snacks on sale to help fuel the conversation, with all proceeds going to support the venue.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

When: Tuesday 29 November December 2016, 7:30pm
Where: Grow (Map)


Julia Farrington: Tackling self-censorship in the arts community


Child Protection: PDF | web

Counter Terrorism: PDF | web

Obscene Publications: PDF | web

Public Order: PDF | web

Race and Religion: PDF | web

Case studies

Behud – Beyond Belief
Can We Talk About This?
Exhibit B
“The law is no less conceptual than fine art”
The Siege
Spiritual America 2014


Julia Farrington: Pre-emptive censorship by the police is a clear infringement of civil liberties
Julia Farrington: The arts, the law and freedom of speech
Ceciel Brouwer: Between art and exploitation
Tamsin Allen: Charging for police protection of the arts
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti: On Behzti
Daniel McClean: Testing artistic freedom of expression in UK courts

Reports and related information

WN-Ethics14-140What Next? Meeting Ethical and Reputational Challenges

Read the full report here or download in PDFTaking the offensive: Defending artistic freedom of expression in the UK (Also available as PDF)

Beyond Belief190x210Beyond belief: theatre, freedom of expression and public order – a case study

UN report on the right to artistic expression and creation
Behzti case study by Ben Payne
freeDimensional Resources for artists
Artlaw Legal resource for visual artists
NCAC Best practices for managing controversy
artsfreedom News and information about artistic freedom of expression

These information packs have been produced by Vivarta in partnership with Index on Censorship and Bindmans LLP.

The packs have been made possible by generous pro-bono support from lawyers at Bindmans LLP, Clifford Chance, Doughty Street Chambers, Matrix Chambers and Brick Court.

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England

Julia Farrington, associate arts producer, Index on Censorship, participated in the Theatre UK 2016 conference on 12 May 2016. This is an adapted version of her presentation. 

In January 2013 I organised a conference called Taking the Offensive for Index on Censorship, in partnership with the Free Word Centre and Southbank Centre. The conference was held to debate the growth of self-censorship in contemporary culture, the social, political and legal challenges to artistic freedom of expression and the sources of these new challenges.

The report from the conference concluded that censorship and self-censorship are significant influences in the arts, creating a complex picture of the different ways society controls expression. Institutional self-censorship, which many acknowledged suppresses creativity and ideas, was openly discussed for the first time.

Lack of understanding and knowledge about rights and responsibilities relating to freedom of expression, worries about legal action, police intervention and loss of funding, health and safety regulations, concern about provoking negative media and social media reaction, and public protests are all causing cultural institutions to be overly cautious.

One speaker at Taking the Offensive suggested that we are fostering a culture where “art is not for debate, controversy and disagreement, but it is to please”.

There is above all, unequal access to exercising the right to artistic freedom of expression, with artists from black and minority ethnic encountering additional obstacles.

Many felt that far greater trust, transparency and honesty about the challenges being faced need to be developed across the sector; dilemmas should be recast as a necessary part of the creative process, to be shared and openly discussed, rather than something to keep behind closed doors. This will make it possible for organisations to come together when there is a crisis, rather than standing back and withholding support: “if we collectively don’t feel confident about the dilemmas we face how can we move on with the public?”

I think there have been significant changes in the three years since the conference and, whilst I think the same challenges persist, there have been some really positive moves to tackle self-censorship within the sector.  The growth of What Next? has created precisely the platform to debate and discuss the pressures, dilemmas and controversies that the conference identified. What Next? has produced guidance on navigating some of these issues and is developing more resources on how organisations can support each other when work is contested.

Index on Censorship responded to the clear call from the conference for the need for guidance about legal rights and responsibilities if we are to create a space where artists are free to take on complex issues that may be disturbing, divisive, shocking or offensive.

We have published information packs around five areas of law that impact on what is sayable in the arts: Public Order, Race and Religion, Counter Terrorism, Child Protection and Obscene Publications. They are available on the website under our campaign Art and Offence. These have been well received by the sector and read by CPS and police and we are developing a programme of training which will, if all goes well, include working with senior police officers.

At the same time, pressures from outside the sector have intensified.

The role of the police in managing the public space when controversial art leads to protest has come into sharp relief over the past two-three years where they have repeatedly “advised” venues to remove or cancel work that has caused protest or may cause protest.

I did a case study on the policing of the picket of Exhibit B at the Barbican in London which is available on the Index website; and in the same year, the Israeli hip hop opera the City was closed in Edinburgh on the advice of the police.

More worryingly the police “advice” has also led to the foreclosing of work that is potentially inflammatory – as in Isis Threaten Sylvannia an art installation by Mimsy, that was removed from an exhibition called Passion for Freedom from the Mall Gallery last year.

With the removal of Isis Threaten Sylvania, we see a shift from the police advising closure following protest to the police contributing indirectly or directly to the decision to remove work to avoid protest.

In this case freedom of expression was actually given a price — set at £7,200 per day for the five days of the exhibition — the price set by the police for their services to guarantee public safety.

The police took the view that a perfectly legal piece of art, which had already been displayed without incident earlier in the year, was inflammatory. And in the balance of things as they stand, this opinion outweighs:

  • the right of the artist to express him or herself;
  • the organisation’s right to present provocative political art;
  • the audience’s right to view it;
  • and those that protest against it, the right to say how much they hate it, including when that means that they want the art removed.

This new chapter in the policing of controversial art sets alarm bells ringing and represents a very dangerous precedent for foreclosing any work that the police don’t approve of.

But going against police advice is problematic.

In Index’s information pack on Public Order we asked our legal adviser, working pro bono, questions that many artists and arts managers are concerned about:

What happens if police advise you not to continue with presenting a piece of work because they have unspecified concerns about public safety – and yet tell you it is your choice and they can only advise you?
The artist would in principle be free to continue with the work. It would be advisable, however, to ensure that the reasons held by the police were understood. It may also be prudent to take professional advice…

And then what responsibilities for safety do employers have to staff and the public in relation to continuing with an artwork that has been contested by the police?
An organisation also has duties to their employees and members of the public on their premises. These duties may extend to making an organisation liable in the event of injury to a person resulting from the unlawful act of a third party if, for example, that unlawful act was plainly foreseeable – in other words the police have given their warning.

What are the options for an arts organisation to challenge police advice at the time of the protest itself?
If the organisation believes that it has grounds to challenge police directions to avoid a breach of the peace, it can seek to take legal action on an urgent basis. Realistically…legal action will not be determined until some time later and until it is determined by the courts, the organisation and/or its members or employees would risk arrest if they do not comply with police directions.

So – what starts out as police advice which implies genuine choice, on closer inspection transforms into a Hobson’s Choice where failure to follow that advice could lead to arrest.

On this evidence, both self-censorship and direct censorship are the undesirable outcomes of this as yet unchallenged area of policing.

But the Crown Prosecution Service has read and approved the packs and our law packs are in the system with the police.

The ideal policing scenario is to keep the space open for both the challenging political art and the protest it provokes. Both are about freedom of expression, what we have to avoid is the heckler’s veto prevailing.

Going back to other recent examples of censorship — questions remain about the role of the police in the decision to cancel Homegrown the National Youth Theatre production of a play about the radicalisation of young Muslims by writer Omar El-Khairy and director Nadia Latif. This was followed earlier this year by the presentation, without incident, of Another World: Losing our Children to Islamic State at the National Theatre, play on similar themes by Gillian Slovo and Nicolas Kent.

I mention Another World because it is important to state the obvious, that all the work that has been contested by the police and been cancelled, relates to work about race and religion and the majority of artists involved in work that has been foreclosed are from black and minority ethnic communities.

Looking through the lens of freedom of expression, each case of censorship gives a valuable opportunity to view a specific snapshot of relationships within society and to analyse the power dynamics operating there, both directly around the censored work — whose voices are and aren’t being heard in the work itself, and in the field and context in which the work is taking place and again looking at who is in control, who decides what voices are heard. I don’t have time here to go into an analysis of each case, but what emerges is that freedom of expression is, as it stands, a biased affair in the UK and I believe will remain so while our society and our culture are not equal.

As well as these new cases of censorship that we have seen since the 2013 conference, we have also seen new government policy, legislation and regulations which place increasingly explicit controls on what we can say and have a chilling effect on many areas of expression and communication, and interaction with government.

Many campaigners and charities see the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 as designed to deter charities from intervening in judicial reviews — the most important legal channel we have to call authorities to account; the Investigatory Powers Bill, better known as the Snoopers’ Charter gives the surveillance state more powers; the Prevent Strategy requires us to police each other – surveillance and policing our neighbours — two nasty authoritarian tactics, and most recently the anti-advocacy clause would effectively ban organisations from using government funds for lobbying — stifling dissent. It was due to come into law on 1 May but the consultation period was extended and it might be kicked into the long grass.

The government has made it clear that it wants us to see ourselves predominantly if not exclusively as businesses and in response we have successfully made the case that the arts contribute massively to the economy.

But we know we are so much more. The arts are a vital, at best magnificent and effective player in civil society — especially when you define civil society as “a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity”.

With our core values and freedoms under attack, the arts and other civil society bodies are responding. The discussion about the role of the artist in taking on the big issues in society — from climate change to the refugee crisis — has, from where I stand, definitely intensified and gone up the agenda over the past three years, both here and internationally, as the pressure on our freedoms and values also intensifies domestically and internationally.

To fully participate in society and to create art that calls power to account, we need to continue to identify, analyse and tackle the causes of self-censorship within the sector, and stand together to enter into dialogue with the various agents of control that we identify in the process.

Art can help us imagine and bring about a more equal and just future.

30 Jan: Walking the Tightrope – the tension between art and politics


Presenting the world premiere of a collection of 12 explosive political five minute plays by writers including Mark Ravenhill, Neil LaBute and Caryl Churchill.

Arising from events and decisions relating to The Underbelly and Incubator Theatre’s The City, Exhibit B and the Barbican, and The Tricycle Theatre.

Each performance will include all twelve five minute plays and a lively post-show discussion exploring freedom of expression in UK arts today. Engage in discussion with the commissioned writers and a range of free expression advocates .

The post-show debate on on Friday 30th January will feature Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg.


WHERE: Theatre Delicatessen, London, EC1R 3ER
WHEN:  Monday 26th – Saturday 31st January,  7:30pm & Sat Matinee
TICKETS: £15 / £12 – available here


This event is produced by Offstage Theatre, in association with Theatre Uncut, and supported by Index on Censorship and Free Word.