Exhibit B – reviews of a 'remarkable' live installation

Aug 20, 2014

Brett Bailey's Exhibit B revisits the era of human zoos and colonial people displayed as objects

Sofie Knijff
What you need to know

Exhibit B, a performance art installation, has opened at the Playfair Library Hall in Edinburgh. Actors present themselves as statues, performing the roles of indigenous people brought back from European empires and exhibited in human zoos, alongside exotic artifacts and other colonial plunder. Curated by the South African director Brett Bailey, the work "straddles the border between theatre, exhibition and performance art", says the Daily Telegraph. Until 25 August.

What the critics like

"Each exhibit is meticulously designed, with a delicate beauty that quickly mutates into horror," says the Laura Barnett in the Daily Telegraph. Lyn Gardner of The Guardian agrees. "Appalling tales of the torture and murder of African slaves and workers in Dutch colonies rise out of a Netherlands golden-age painting," she says, describing the work as "unbearable and essential".

The Times's Allan Radcliffe praises a "remarkable" exhibition. One "exhibit" in particular, called the Hottentot Venus, provoked a "shiver of discomfort" within him. "Bare-breasted and presented on a slowly rotating plinth, she is extremely difficult to look at for any length of time, not least because, like all the exhibits in Bailey’s piece, the object on display maintains direct eye contact with the spectator."

What they don't like

While The Times commends the way in which the work linked past abuse to present-day treatment of "the other", the Telegraph finds its politics "highly problematic". Drawing comparisons between the treatment of present-day asylum seekers and their predecessors during the colonial era "surely ignores how enormously race relations have transformed, and the complexity of today’s political landscape", it says

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