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Protesters interrupt controversial 'human zoo' exhibit in Paris

28 November 2014, 20:56

Paris - Protesters smashed through the doors of a Paris theatre Thursday night in a bid to block an exhibition on the horrors of colonialism using live black actors, which has attracted increasing opposition from critics who say it is racist.

South African director Brett Bailey, who has been travelling with Exhibit B for four years with little trouble, told AFP recently the sudden anger over the installation was a grave misunderstanding from people who had not actually seen the "deeply emotional" work.

"Protesters at the premiere of Exhibit B in St Denis, Paris, smashed through the theatre doors tonight. Set off fire alarms. Trying to stop us," he wrote on his Facebook page late Thursday.

A police source said more than 100 protesters tried to block people from entering, and later tried to overrun the theatre to stop the show.

The director of the Gerard Philippe de Saint-Denis theatre Jean Bellorini said only two performances could take place before the protest put an end to the evening's shows.

Every 20 minutes a small group of spectators enters the location where one by one they stand in front of the jarring living portraits.

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"As they move through the exhibit, we watch them and witness anger, grief, pity, sadness, compassion. Above all, we witness a dawning of awareness. This is why we keep doing this, and would keep on doing it, if we could," the performers said in a statement defending the show earlier this year.

Bailey was inspired by the "human zoo" exhibits popular during the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries.

Europeans and Americans once flocked to these exhibits in which Africans such as pygmy Ota Benga posed in native dress.

One of Exhibit B's 12 displays show the plight of a Herero woman from Namibia forced to boil the decapitated heads of fellow prisoners and scrape them clean with shards of glass for German so-called scientific experiments.

Bailey also touches on atrocities committed by colonial forces in the Belgian and French Congos, the plight of African immigrants in Europe, and the horrors of Apartheid.

In London in September Bailey was forced to shut down the exhibit when the opening was stormed by protesters following a petition against the show which gathered some 23,000 signatures.

"There were objections to the fact that a white South African is telling a story about racism," Bailey told AFP.

The exhibition toured Europe in 2013 and received a "beautiful response" he added.

In France, Exhibit B has received support from the League of Human Rights, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin.

Pellerin condemned "attempts at intimidation or censorship."

The show is scheduled to continue at the theatre until November 30 before moving to the 104 theatre between December 6 and 15.

"My performers are full of fire. My team is full of fire... Rage, rage against the dying of the light. The show will go on," said Bailey on Facebook.



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