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Looking at the Other/Seeing the Self: Embodied Performance and Encounter in Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B and Nineteenth-Century Ethnographic Displays

Atkin, Lara (2015) Looking at the Other/Seeing the Self: Embodied Performance and Encounter in Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B and Nineteenth-Century Ethnographic Displays. Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, 16 (2). pp. 136-155. ISSN 1753-3171. E-ISSN 1543-1304. (doi:10.1080/17533171.2015.1022415) (KAR id:77265)

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Abstract

On 23 September 2014, the South African director Brett Bailey found himself in the eye of a media storm over the cancelation of the planned performance of his work Exhibit B by The Barbican at The Vaults in London. The thirteen tableau vivants of Exhibit B each represented a different moment in the history of Euro- pean relations with Africans between the seventeenth century and the present. Media attention focused upon the esthetics of the piece, criticizing Bailey’s use of ethnographic display, a genre of nineteenth-century popular entertainment in which indigenous actors from throughout the colonies performed dances and ritu- als deemed representative of their cultures at various European metropolitan cen- ters. These were carefully curated affairs in which the costumes and props of the performers were surrounded by highly coded messages about the inferiority of non-Europeans to Europeans. Whether deliberately or as a result of the linguistic barriers separating audience from performer, the actors in these shows were neces- sarily silent—embodying the image of the primitive Other. It is Bailey’s use of the ethnographic display to stage a history of the violent domination and subjugation of black Africans at the hands of white Europeans that proved so controversial.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/17533171.2015.1022415
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Lars Atkin
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2019 14:06 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 13:16 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/77265 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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