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Protesters force cancellation of controversial 'human zoo' show

'Human zoo' exhibition hosted by the Barbican has been cancelled following protests. Credit: The Barbican

A controversial show called 'Exhibit B' which was being hosted tonight by the Barbican at the Vaults in London has been cancelled due to a street protest.

The show, which features black actors in various poses including shackled and standing motionless, is said to be a critical look at the 19th and early 20th century ‘human zoos’ that showed Africans as objects of scientific curiosity.

'Exhibit B' was conceived by South African director Brett Bailey. Credit: The Barbican

Due to the extreme nature of the protest outside the Vaults, regrettably we have cancelled this evening's performance of Exhibit B as we could not guarantee the safety of performers, audiences and staff.

We respect people's right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners.

– A spokesperson for the Barbican

A petition against the exhibition on change.org has nearly 23,000 signatures and a series of public meetings have been taking place ahead of tonight's planned event by campaigners who say the show is racist.

The exhibit, which was conceived by South African director Brett Bailey, has previously taken place in Edinburgh where it was well received by the public and critics.

The Barbican says 'Exhibit B' raises issues around racism. Credit: The Barbican

The petition's organiser Sara Myers said: "If Brett Bailey is trying to make a point about slavery this is not the way to do it.

"The irony gets lost and it’s not long before the people behind the cage begin to feel like animals trapped in a zoo...We have come a long way since the days of the grotesque human zoo – we should not be taking steps back now."

In a statement released before the show's cancellation tonight the Barbican said the exhibit "aims to confront the objectification of human beings... and to question how far society has moved on".

The show was due to run until September 27th.