The Barbican has spoken out against protestors who forced the cancellation of ‘Exhibit B’, an art installation of black actors in chains and cages with the intentions of portraying an anti-slavery message.
The backlash against the exhibit culminated in 200 protestors blocking the entrance leading to the Barbican, finally leading to the exhibition’s removal, which raises questions for Law students as to the extent of free speech in the UK, and the freedom of assembly for protestors.
The Barbican argued that protesting the exhibit amounted to a breach of artistic freedom, silencing the artists and creative minds behind the piece, while also preventing viewers experiencing its anti-slavery message.
Protestors, meanwhile, argued that the attempt to recreate colonialist conditions was objectifying and exploitative. Potential art applicants must then view this piece as testing the boundaries of the medium, which raises questions as to what we mean by ‘good art’ – to some, the piece evoked the horrific conditions of slavery as intended, while to others, attempting to capture slavery in real time with shackled black actors was simply unpalatable and insensitive.
HSPS and PPE applicants would do well to watch Judith Butler’s talk on the right to assemble, which discusses the power of bodies assembling in public and the ways in which collective actions of protest can be powerful beyond the number of individuals involved.
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