I witnessed over 200 protesters gathered under the tunnels in Waterloo where the Vault was hosting the first showing of Brett Bailey’s controversial Exhibit B performance in London.
When I first heard about the exhibit I wanted to know more about it and after being offered a guess pass I thought, why not? I wanted to see it for myself, I wanted to really understand why it was so terrible.
At the corner of Leake Street Road I could already hear the loud chants and drums of protesters at the entrance of the Vault just over 100m away. As I got closer I noticed security as well as Police who were monitoring and trying to keep calm.
With loud booing towards any member of the public that was entering, I was expecting mine to be the worst since I was the only black person to view the show for the first slot at 6.30 pm. I couldn’t quite predict what was to happen next.
The boos heckled towards me as I went inside and after came a most uncomfortable feeling. I’m not sure if the feeling came from the eerie atmosphere in this underground-like dungeon or the smell of something gone off.
A group of about a dozen of us stood waiting for the first viewing and after about 5 minutes of waiting their seemed to be sudden commotion outside and all of us inside were rushed into a room, deeper into the building for safety.
The barriers outside that were holding protesters were breached and I briefly got to see some protestors that had reached the entrance door before I was hurried along.
With the Barbican workers believing the safety of those inside was compromised they hurried us all along inside into a kind of “waiting area”. Even through the walls of the room pounded the voices of the protesters outside.
The audience and staff that surrounded me seemed quite fearful with one lady saying, “This is worrying” and another stating, “I don’t know why this is happening, it was greatly received in Edinburgh”.
An assistant for the night ran in asking for any “Strong Men” to help at the front doors and of course at this point all of us present couldn’t imagine what was happening outside.
With the protesting only getting more and more spurred up, the Barbican decided to cancel the show. A spokesperson for the Barbican said:“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.”
As I started to walk back to where the protesters had gathered I heard police sirens and saw police vans turning into Leake Road. The crowd cheered as a sign was brought out stating the cancellation and protestors began to retreat.
Over a dozen additional uniformed police jumped out their vans to aid in calming the crowd that to be honest were already retreating away from the entrance.
A man that seemed quite angry walking away from the protestors came up to me and said: “If Brett Bailey was black it would be okay” and pointing towards the crowd of protestors he said, “they are the f*****g racists”. This man clearly had an opposite view with the protesters that actually I completely diasgreed with.
So, with a cancelled show, I doubt I will be able to see it for myself and confirm my own judgements on how Brett Bailey could have portrayed this message differently. What I do want to see is the black community unified in society as they were at the protests yesterday, supporting one another.
We want to see more of the triumphs of blacks through the slavery period and that will be from black people telling their own narrative. We need to stop throwing so much abuse at others and throw support to each other if we want to see a change.