Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Exhibit B

Playfair Library, Edinburgh
Five stars

It's the eyes that get you first when you step into South African artist Brett Bailey's searing damnation of historical and modern-day racism. Set up as a series of tableaux vivants in the most quietly ornate of human zoos, the audience are invited to peer at living representations of black people down the centuries in this presentation by Bailey's Third World Bunfight company for Edinburgh International Festival.

Flanked by the white marble busts of  the victors of the official history books, we pay witness to those abused and treated as a novelty or freak-show by their white masters. Captions use the triumphant colonialist clich├ęs of the 'Civilising The Native' variety, only for the small print to spell out what really happened.

Most damning of all are the three so-called Found Objects, in which real life immigrants from Jamaica, Ghana and Nigeria portray, not figures from  history, but themselves, with the details of where they live in modern-day Edinburgh catalogued beside them.  And when these living statues – bound and gagged like the immigrant  who died on an aeroplane in 2010 while being deported under the care of private security guards – blink back at you, defiant and unbowed, the guilt it provokes is devastating.

The List, August 2014


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