Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Brett Bailey in Response to the Boycott of his “Racist” Exhibit B

Brett Bailey, whose latest piece, “Exhibit B,” was aggressively shut down by London protestors, responds here. Upon hearing that it had been so poorly received in London, I was worried that the artist’s intention to mediate a social dialogue would be lost. The show had successfully toured 12 cities, but upon arriving to London protestors blocked the entrance and officials had to cancel the show b/c they feared they could not keep the 100+ performers safe.

Fortunately, the artist did not let the closing of his show silence his objective. Bailey eloquently defends his art piece claiming his intention was not to offend, but he understands that he works “in difficult and contested territory that is fraught with deep pain, anger and hatred.” He continues by saying, “There are no clear paths through this territory,and it is littered with landmines.” He understands why people are upset, but claims it is no excuse for his work to be censored.

I hope the dialogue continues further. Bailey claims to have testimonies from many of the 150 African-American performers involved. I would love for him to have some published. Not only would it offer an intimate view of the production process necessary for such a sensitive work, but it would give a perspective on the piece from a black man/woman. Bailey’s biggest downfall in producing this piece is that he’s white. Some protestors readily assume he’s racist, but Bailey insists that Exhibit B is his way of speaking out against racism.

Bailey sums up the article very well and I’ll quote him to sum up my own. Do any of us really want to live in a society in which expression is suppressed, banned, silenced, denied a platform? My work has been shut down today, whose will be closed down tomorrow?”

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2 comments on “Brett Bailey in Response to the Boycott of his “Racist” Exhibit B

  1. zeniasimpson
    September 30, 2014

    I think race in exhibitions has been something that’s been coming up in highly controversial ways. One woman reported a hostile time she visited Kara Walkers “A Subtlety” this past summer. Many felt that people, often white tourist, taking selfies of themselves often with a sexually suggestive undertone was creating the same racist sentiment the sugar mammy was signifying. Artnet critiqued the Jeff Koon’s respective as kitsch and downright offensive to African-Americans. I think that artist speaking for themselves clearly about their point of view is a great start and education on Creative Time’s part would have drastically changed the overall perception of the exhibition. However, art is meant to provoke whether it’s Ai Weiwei upsetting the Chinese government or black people feeling offended.

  2. shrulala
    October 5, 2014

    I think its unfortunate that people use the Brett Bailey’s race to question the exhibit. We had a long discussion about this in our Diverse Communities class and also talked about different situations where people question the source and are afraid that the group will be misrepresented. It is a difficult situation but we need to be objective and weigh the pros and cons before entirely shutting out a show.
    Here is another artist like Brett Bailey a South African ventroquilist – http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-04-24/white-comedian-and-his-black-puppet-help-south-africans-talk-about-race

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