My identity has been questioned by those whom I oppose. I speak from the heart of an Ethiopian man, a British man, an English man, a spiritual man and a practical man. These are the ventricles that pump blood throughout me 24 hours a day. I thank Sara Myers and her campaigners for the opportunity to consider my position on their flawed campaign which aims to silence an artist. And I thank them for the opportunity to speak as one.
Myers started the campaign on a “gut reaction” after seeing a piece about Exhibit B in The Guardian. Consider that you saw the corner of a picture and immediately assumed it was the entire context. Imagine you saw Grayson Perry’s Tapestry “The adoration of cage fighters” and assumed he was making jokes about the white working class. Imagine you then built a campaign against that artwork using your context. People will believe and support you.
“Withdraw the racist Exhibition ‘Exhibit B – The Human Zoo’ from showing at the Barbican” is the self penned headline of the letter of protest. On reading it and feeling her indignation many people clicked in support. The numbers began to rise. 10, 000 and counting. Notable “community leaders” like Akala joined the herd. 11,000, 12,000. The stampede threw up a storm of dust. The daily mail covered the story. 13,000 The figures continued to rise. 15,000. “it only takes 40 seconds to protest” said a follower on Akala’s site encouraging his friends. Now it stands at 20,000 and rising. It’s a no brainer right. Wrong.
The term Human Zoo is not in Bailey’s title it’s there via Myers. And change.org, her chosen website, is faulty. I know one journalist who entered a different name multiple times to test its veracity – all the names are still there.
But what is racist about what Myers says is a “racist exhibition”. Is it really racist to show the shocking facts of the past via theatrical installation. Jewish people don’t agree with Myers. The holocaust is part of public consciousness directly because gentiles and Jews alike have portrayed it in film, in art galleries, on stage and in literature – in all its graphic detail.
Jewish people didn’t say Schindlers List was racist because they saw its context. Jewish people have watched gentiles depicting the story for years without accusing them of being racist. And art institutions have supported the holocaust narrative without being accused of institutional racism. Like The Holocaust slavery itself has been enacted on screen in film and in plays. Does Myers see that these are all examples of literal enslavement and racism.
For many Jewish people these films and plays and exhibitions are impossible to watch. The story of The Holocaust is one they know too well. The pain is still there. But empowered by remembrance the story is part of the story of humanity now. There is a maturity: There is a knowledge and a wisdom. And there is pain. The pain is the gut reaction which Myers felt.
We must acknowledge the pain of remembrance but also we must acknowledge the importance of remembrance. This respects our ancestors. It is this maturity and vision that one must ask of young and old black and white when seeing Brett Baileys Exhibit B. If I had children I would take them to see this exhibition too. “daddy did this really happen?” they would ask through tears “yes” I would reply. And our conversations would be elevated to why it happened and how it kinda happens today.
I am not defined by my scars but by the incredible ability to heal. And part of this healing is to know the story of oppression. These stories must must be told by all to all. Like the Jewish community we may not like what we see but we can understand that it must be seen. This is our strength. It must be told a thousand ways by a thousand generations to come.
With a flawed accusation of racism Myers has done disservice to her self and to her cause. They have kicked up a storm and blinded themselves to the clarity of truth. I watched Sara Myers flounder on Newsnight tonight. I watched her speak for “the black community” as if the black community had one point of view. I am part of the black community and Myers does not represent me nor many of those who have written to me. This brings me back to the beginning of this article.
I speak with the heart of an Ethiopian man, an English man, a spiritual man and a practical man. These are the ventricles that pump blood throughout me 24 hours a day. I thank Sara Myers and her “campaigners” for the opportunity to consider my personal position on their flawed campaign which aims to silence an artist. I thank them for this opportunity to speak as one.