Press release: IHRC urges Barbican to pull plans for racist exhibition


IHRC is backing an online petition calling on the London arts venue, the Barbican, to cancel a scheduled exhibition in which real-life actors play the roles of slaves to recreate black slaves in 19th century human zoos.

IHRC is among the thousands of people and groups who have already have signed the petition protesting at the exhibition’s reproduction of the zoos in which slaves were kept in colonial Europe and North America alongside animals so they could beviewed by the visiting public.

Among the offending exhibits are a black woman chained to a bed waiting for her French slave master to come and exploit her and a slave forced to wear a perforated metal mask covering his face and a pin going through his tongue. Another exhibit shows a slave held captive in a cage.

While the stated purpose of the exhibition, according to its creator Brett Bailey, is to force western audiences to confront the atrocities of their forefathers, IHRC believes that it objectifies the black models taking part in the same way as the slaves they are said to represent. The exhibition has already been seen in various European capitals amid reports that some visitors have racially abused the actors.

IHRC believes that the experiences of slavery and racism can be better represented without reproducing the same racism it purports to challenge.

IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “The Barbican should listen to the voices of those people of colour who are still suffering the indirect consequences of colonialism which are saying that more than highlighting the horrors of slavery this type of re-enaction abuses those actors taking part and simply reproduces the racism of the original human zoos.”


IHRC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

Islamic Human Rights Commission

PO Box 598



United Kingdom

Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222



Twitter @ihrc