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You The Critic: Exhibit B, Playfair Library Hall, Edinburgh

Event: Exhibit B, visual art, Playfair Library Hall, Edinburgh

Review by Michelle Wards and Eilidh Fleming of Portobello High School.

Tayeeba Ashraf: four stars

The inhumane, racial terror that has plagued a larger part of our history than we like to consider, is hauntingly showcased in Exhibit B.

There was a tense atmosphere, each person feeding off the obvious discomfort of the other, as the spectators sat waiting for their turn. A stony eyed woman held up a number, signalling each departure. Climbing up the steps we were met by two workers directing us to the exhibition.

All around the library were men and women - some dressed fully in rags, secluded upon stands and some completely bare. Harsh visuals of men, young and old, gagged and bound, filled the room, contrasting profoundly with the sweet and soothing sound of the choir.

Tales of beheading, skinning and isolating victims from their families were displayed. I felt ashamed for not being able to maintain eye contact for more than a few seconds. What was projected on to the viewers, through these eyes? Blankness. Complete submission to the ruthless objectification that they had no choice but to tolerate. Numbered stickers on their chests, chains covering their bodies and expressions devoid of any emotion.

Exhibit B portrayed the theme of "otherness", allowing the viewer to experience the utter humiliation felt physically, mentally and spiritually. It is one thing to read a few lines of history, but another to be fully transported into it, to be encased and captured by it.

Exhibit B is an intense portrayal of human brutality, not for the faint hearted. Thought-provoking and beautiful.

Eilidh Fleming: four stars.

Entering Exhibit B felt like entering an exam hall with everyone waiting for a number in silence, making their way separately towards a shocking re-creation of the human zoos of the past. The silence was filled by haunting music that led you up the staircase to the exhibition. Brett Bailey, the artist behind this poignant piece stated that he seeks to "explode stereotypes... Not to reinforce them." And explode them he did.

The performers all keep a blank look on their faces, whether surrounded by shackles or locked in a cage next to a sign stating cruelly "the blacks have been fed," creating a sense of acceptance of their misfortune. Working its displays of human cruelty into the Playfair's little nooks and crannies, Exhibit B has a horror around every corner.

The location was particularly powerful - a library filled with statues of prolific historians, scientists and professors. All white. This made the divide between the races seem even more prominent. However as you make your way through the space beautiful songs echo around you. The music a poignant contrast to the harshness all around.

The hardest thing about Exhibit B is you are forced to be a spectator and it really makes you question the morals of society. Exhibit B is really one of these things that must be seen to be fully understood. 'Moving' seems an odd choice of word to describe an event in which the performers all remain still, but it is also the most suitable.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

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