Now that the furore is dying down, I thought I’d say my piece on the maelstrom that was Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B, re-dubbed Human Zoo by those of us who opposed it, to reflect the dubious history of the ‘artform.’
I signed the petition fairly early on. It was a no brainer for me. I’m passionate about (Black) History, and have had enough experiences of a racially ambivalent nature as an artist, as an employee and as citizen to understand the implications almost immediately. These have been discussed widely on the web so I won’t repeat them here.
I then had the pleasure quite accidentally of meeting a member of the cast. I was persuaded to reserve judgment and see the show for myself. I was weighing this up…more so that I could comment from a place of more profound understanding of how the piece really made me feel. Ok, the exhibition has been cancelled….and that decision is now out of my hands. However, I feel a sense of real joy at this victory. Not least because I followed the campaign closely from the change.org updates from petition organiser Sara Myers and her cohort. With my conversations with protesters on Twitter and Facebook….and of course the counter argument from the cast member. I spoke to her on a couple of occasions, and she was extremely upset by the reaction, and thought we had done ourselves a disservice.
I hope that she will come to realise that she has most likely been done the greatest service actually. If institutions like the Barbican wish to open debate, support art and widen the agenda and participation. There are so many ways in which they can do this. However…their reaction to this whole episode has reflected that they do not actually want this.
As a singer/songwriter, the blatant racism in the music industry of yesteryear was hardly veiled, in as much that it was more of an unspoken and often spoken ‘mission statement’ of record company executives. Black girls are 2 a penny. I was told this more than once. To what end? Ok, so you’re a songwriter…but nobody wants to buy ‘that’ type of music. It’s not ‘commercial’ enough. Perhaps you could write something ‘edgy’ for one of these lovely young ‘white’ ladies or gentleman, who we are grooming for a life on entertainment’s easy street?? Say what!! The style of music I often produce is ok for the likes of Adele, Amy Winehouse, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and many more….even if they are about 15 years late to the party.
I’ve had just as damaging messages either directly or indirectly aimed at me or my work in several places of employment, and in my treatment by public bodies as a citizen. Now…it may be, and I believe there is a modicum of truth in this, that I can be a right pain in the arse. Tis true. I can be overly emotional and impulsive (I like to call it artistic license :)) However, I believe the contributions I have made to society as a human being are valuable and worth a hearing…perhaps even real financial support to realise my creative visions. I believe they are a damn sight more valuable than many of the so called beneficiaries of public money (my money) in the arts and entertainment world. Nepotism is unbelievable. The sense of entitlement scary.
What I’ve often found is that where my efforts are not simply ignored, They may be ridiculed or just ‘falling short’ of the invisible marker of some gatekeeper or other. Often times your works are reappraised, plagiarised and passed of as the work of someone else. You are not given any credit for the contributions you make. I’m not alone here. Britain is littered with the struggling creative. Not the obscure…but the critically acclaimed. The celebrated. Who have understood that ‘the powers that be’ gain a lot of their self worth and perceived power in ensuring that it is as difficult as possible for you to get through said gate.
So when certain folks have started banging the drum about censorship…I’m like…HaaaangOoooonAMinute!! Where is the real censorship happening? How often, and for how long? Or are we only able to be heard through the silence of naked actors in cages being re-subjugated as some kind of ‘history lesson?’ It is an irony of sorts is it not? Our silence…pervasive on the mainstream radar, given voice by ‘brave white South African Male. ‘ I always feel uncomfortable writing about issues of race, or even putting the word ‘white’ down in permanent form…as it is such an emotive area…prone to huge misunderstanding and potential alienation. However, Mr Bailey’s ‘native’ origin I believe forms as much a part of the sense of hurt and betrayal felt by some of us. C’mon, really?
I’m understanding more and more that a requisite mindset of ‘the privileged’ is a real lack of understanding (or lack of desire to understand) how that privilege works for their favour at every stage of societies processes, and to the detriment of a fair, equal and just society. Nope. They just don’t geddit. Or as I suspect…it is just to darn cosy up there.
I used to be frustrated. I used to be angry. However, now I’m just more determined to speak truth to power. I become less traumatised by attempts to ‘silence my true voice.’ You should be too…because a healthy society is not developed by mindlessly standing by whilst damaging decisions are made by a privileged few with no real mandate of power. That is actually oppression.
The leaders we have at the moment (and I use that term extremely loosely) to my mind are nothing more than criminals. They may not conjure up in your mind, what we often like to think of as criminal, but they have criminal friends. They engage in illegal wars. They appoint many of these criminals friends to government and expect us to believe they are innocent of culpability. They make criminal alliances. They cover up abuses of the worst kind, and grin smugly in our faces while they do it. Would be unbelievable were it not so true and present. However….depending on your situational position in society, the more or less you may understand this dynamic.
To all those that signed the petition. To those that physically went out and banged the drums and got the show stopped. I doff my cap to you. Well done, and thank you x