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Exhibit B - The Human Zoo was due to be shown at the Barbican between 23 and 27 SeptemberBarbican/Sofie Knijff

An exhibition which has been accused of being "racist and insensitive" has been cancelled following opening night protests outside the venue.

The controversial installation Exhibit B – The Human Zoo by white South African artist Brett Bailey used live models to pose as black slaves inside cages and wearing shackles.

Bailey's work recreates the 'Human zoos' which existed in 19th century Europe as a result of colonisation. A venue description said it set out to shine a light on the "atrocities" of the past and "subvert a disturbing phenomenon".

The exhibition was due to run at the Barbican theatre in London from 23 to 27 September having already toured around Europe, including a successful and positively reviewed showing at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The Barbican was urged to withdraw Exhibit B following accusations it shows an "outrageous act of complicit racism". An online petition calling for the show to be cancelled received more than 20,000 signatures.

A Boycott Human Zoo protest group have also attracted more than 1,500 members on Facebook and Twitter. They previously staged a protest outside the Barbican claiming the show does not expose the horrors of colonisation but merely demonstrates "how effective it was and remains as a caging instrument of white supremacists".

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Protesters gathered outside the Barbican venueBoycottHumanZoo

On the exhibition's opening night, around 200 people gathered outside the venue to again protest against Bailey's installation.

The demonstrators held placards reading "I am somebody" and "Our ancestors are kings and queens" during the protest. Police were called to the scene once the protest started, but no arrests were made.

The Barbican first confirmed it cancelled the first night's performance due to the "extreme nature" of the protests as it could not "guarantee the safety of performers, audiences and staff".

"We respect people's right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners," a spokesperson added.

However, a written statement from the Vaults, an independent venue hired by the Barbican where the exhibition was being displayed, added: "Further subsequent performances up to and including Saturday 27 have also been cancelled."

The Barbican previously stood by the exhibition, believing it turned the "notion of exotic spectacle on its head". Responding to the online petition on the eve of the opening night, the gallery said it is "categorically" against racism would not present a work that supported it.

The theatre added: "Exhibit B raises, in a serious and responsible manner, issues about racism. It aims to confront the objectification of human beings and the abhorrent historical attitudes to race during the colonial era, and to question how far society has moved on.

"Engaging with these subjects in a work of art is always likely to be controversial and difficult, and we understand that people may be upset by the way in which the issues are portrayed in Exhibit B."

The Barbican previously said it does not believe the issues surrounding the exhibition should result in it being cancelled and accepted the right for peaceful protests against it.

"In return we would ask that you fully respect our performers' right to perform and our audiences' right to attend," it added.

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The Barbican said Brett Bailey's work 'sets out to subvert a disturbing phenomenon'Barbican/Sofie Knijff