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: Pre-emptive censorship by the police is a clear infringement of civil liberties

The following was presented at No Boundaries: A Symposium on the Role of Arts and Culture. Video of Julia Farrington and the day’s other speakers is available on the No Boundaries site.


Child Protection: PDF | web

Counter Terrorism: PDF | web

Obscene Publications: PDF | web

Public Order: PDF | web

Race and Religion: PDF | web

Art and the Law home page

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

In 1972, Michael Scammell, the first editor of Index on Censorship magazine, wrote in the launch issue: “Freedom of expression is not self-perpetuating but needs to be maintained by the constant vigilance of those who care about it.”

We obviously haven’t been very vigilant here in the UK.

As we heard last week, when the artist Mimsy’s work Isis Threaten Sylvania was removed from the Passion for Freedom exhibition at the Mall Galleries, London, artistic freedom of expression was put up for sale at £36,000.

And disturbing though it is, the news is a gift to those who have been concerned about the direction policing of politically or socially challenging art was taking. Now the situation is crystal clear and marks an alarming new approach to the policing of controversial art.

In last week’s case, the police were concerned about the “potentially inflammatory content” of Mimsy’s work, so they gave the organisers a classic Hobson’s Choice: if they went ahead with their plans to display it, they would have to pay the police £36,000 to cover the cost of security for the six-day show.

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 to view it and those that protest against it, the right to say how much they hate it.

If this goes unchallenged, it will set a very dangerous precedent for foreclosing any work that the police don’t approve of.

But going against police advice is tough. In Index’s information pack on Public Order – part of a series of booklets looking at laws that impact on what is sayable in the arts, we ask the question: “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 answer is that in principle, in law, you are free to proceed.

But it goes on to talk about duties the organisation has to their employees and members of the public present on their premises, which fall under licencing and other obligations.

But the point is no one has taken this to the courts, so it hasn’t been tried and tested.

As it stands — and in the heat of a crisis when these decisions are mostly reached — police advice is a Hobson’s Choice in pretty much every case.

This latest example of policing comes hot foot after revelations in the summer that the police were involved in, though allegedly not directly responsible for, the cancellation of Homegrown.

And it is only a year since Exhibit B at the Vaults in London and the Israeli hip-hop opera The City in Edinburgh were cancelled on the advice of the police following protests outside both venues.

Way back in 2004 the theatre world was shocked when protest led to the closure of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play – Behzti following police advice. Gurpreet says that what shocked her most at the time, was how the politicians didn’t take the closure as an opportunity to challenge the police decision, defend her right, and promote the importance of freedom of expression.

Six years later, the Coventry police wanted £10,000 per night to guarantee the safety of the premier production of Gurpreet’s subsequent play Behud at the Belgrade Theatre, which was her creative response to having her play cancelled in Birmingham; and which, because of the playwright’s history of attracting controversy, was treated by the police as a public order issue from day one of the production.

When faced with the police’s bill, Hamish Glen, artistic director of the Belgrade wrote to the police and said it was a fiscal impossibility for the theatre to pay up, and would amount to de facto censorship of Gurpreet’s voice for a second time. They came back asking for £5,000 per night instead which got the same response from Hamish – and finally they waived the fee and the show went ahead without incident.

In investigating this for a case study I wrote, I asked how the police had come up with the figure, and the answer was that it was assessed by the same criteria for special police services at a football match or a music festival. There is no guidance on policing a not-for-profit arts organisation dealing with fundamental rights – it is not on the police radar.

Writing a case study on the policing of the picketing of Exhibit B by Boycott the Human Zoo earlier this year also gave a series of interesting insights

Only one police officer from British Transport Police – The Vaults are under Waterloo Station and therefore under BTP jurisdiction – and two Community Police Officers attended the demonstration of 200 people – so it was obviously not considered a priority, despite the fact that social and print media made it clear that the production was very divisive and both the Boycott and the Barbican had talked to the police.

When, as the protest escalated and extra police arrived, the officer who took charge, talked to Sara Myers, the organiser of the Boycott, asking what was going on – they seemed not to know anything about it. He asked Sara what she wanted. She said she wanted the Barbican to close the show, and she told him that they intended to picket each of the five performances if they did not. The officer’s response was this is much ado about nothing – we haven’t got the resources to police this – we have to be out fighting serious crime.

So The Heckler’s Veto was seen to be working in London and in Edinburgh, just as it had worked in Birmingham ten years previously. When faced with a noisy demonstration, the police showed that they would take the path of least resistance and advise closure of whatever was provoking the protest.

And now a year later, with the removal of Isis Threaten Sylvania, we have seen 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.

This is pre-emptive censorship by the police and represents a major shift in policing and is a clear infringement of civil liberties. It threatens the arts as a space for public debate about the politics of the world we live in.

Though of course because of the paradox of censorship, it actually has the opposite effect, it has amplified the work and many, many more people will be talking about that work because of the police’s move to close it. That doesn’t lessen the sting of the police’s new boldness and the trajectory they seem to be on with this latest act of censorship.

But let’s look at it from the police’s point of view. They are facing massive cuts themselves. George Osbourne’s latest figures indicate at the lowest end – a 25% cut on top of previous rounds. There are fewer police officers on the streets than at any time since the 1970s.

There is no guidance about policing of artistic freedom of expression, compared to pages of guidance on managing protest which stresses on every page the right to protest. When it comes to artistic cases it is left to professional judgement. I have spoken to several senior police officers about this and they will admit that mistakes have been made, but there have never been any consequences for these mistakes, so they remain quite blithe about them. And the bottom line with the police is always public safety.

They also, I believe, feel they have jurisdiction over certain volatile and socially sensitive areas of society where they have duties to prevent crime and to maintain law and order and have community cohesion responsibilities. So when artists venture into this territory with work that may cause offence, their reaction is to simply remove the provocation.

We also now have elected police commissioners who have political agendas – where inevitably policing unpopular, minority voices is going to come low on their agenda – however brilliant they may be, or however important they might be to the fundamental tenets of a liberal democracy.

And this has never been challenged. There has never been any judicial review of the policing of artistic freedom of expression. Judicial Review is the recourse that any arts organisation has when faced with what they consider to be inadequate or unfair policing. Actions by the police are subject to review by the courts for a number of reasons, including for instance if the police failed to consider alternatives to closure, or Article 10 rights generally.

We can and should expect more of the police. Tamsin Allen – senior partner at Bindmans states in an article she wrote for the case study of Behud: “The police have an obligation to fulfil their core duties – those are now enhanced by their duties under the Human Rights Act not to act incompatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights. The convention imposes both a qualified obligation not to interfere with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and protest and a positive obligation to take appropriate steps to protect those rights. This may change if the Human Rights Act is abolished.”

And we are talking here about legal expression. We do not see artists going to court in the UK – the last major case in this country was Lady Chatterly in the 60s; the Oz Trial, the publishers of the poem The Love That Dares to Speak its Name in the 70s; and the lesser known case of the Human Earrings in 1989, being amongst the very few other cases.

It is also worth pointing out what is obvious – that nearly all the artworks that have been foreclosed by the police over the past few years deal with race and or religion and, Exhibit B notwithstanding, the majority of contemporary cases of contested art are by artists from black and ethnic minorities. This only emphasises the fact that freedom of expression is a biased affair in the UK and I believe will remain so while our society and our culture are not equal.

Acknowledging that, I would add to what Michael Scammell said – the space for freedom of expression has to be more than just maintained – it has to be enlarged and extended.

And as an urgent part of that, we have to challenge this culture of policing, this policing of culture.

The climate is not set fair for promoting the importance of artistic freedom of expression – the political climate is set against human rights. Policing as we have seen with absolute clarity this week in the case of Mimsy’s work, is subject to the prevailing laissez faire of the market place.

In late 2013, I asked Keir Starmer, former director of public prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service, if he felt there was a need for police guidance in the area of art and offence and he said emphatically yes. He said he thought it was going to be an increasingly major policing issue over the coming years. He was right.

We have to open up discussion at the highest level with police and the prosecution service, if we are to safeguard the space for freedom of expression in the arts, especially where it relates to political art. The climate might not be conducive, but it has not been tried before, systematically – it is uncharted – let’s go there.