Critique of the article on ‘Exhibit B’

By Matt Meade & Danny Quijas

Prior to reading the article featured in the Washington Post by Soraya Nadia McDonald, we had a general description of what “Exhibit B” was – a ‘human zoo.’ People are on display like they are figurines and they are free to answer any questions anyone has. Our original thoughts were as most would be if only a vague description of the exhibition was given, why are people on display? How is this even legal? Who would run such a thing? These were the questions swirling in our heads before reading the article and learning more about the exhibit as a whole. Soon after reading the article our thoughts developed. We had a better understanding of what took place and what the creator of the exhibit was attempting to do for the audience helped us understand the motive.

This article discusses the current exhibit and why it is the center of controversy. We enjoy that McDonald voices both arguments at hand with “Exhibit B.” They not only feature a quote from a member of the petition letter, but also one from the theater director, both bringing up valid points in their argument. An important similarity between these two quotes is that the creator of Exhibit B is a white male. This emphasis on the ‘white male’ seems to be a significant aspect of non-believers. It is apparent that the race of the creator can guide people into two polar opposite. Either they feel offended that he is white, or they feel that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it; he is aiming to do what not many white males have done.

Race is an obvious issue when it comes to this exhibit and the article does its job to emphasize that. Not only was the race of the creator a focus, but the gender of the creator is significant also. The ‘male’ aspect was featured plenty of times in the article and it interested us, primarily due to the center of the articles argument. McDonald felt it was necessary to include this quote, “created by white men seeking to communicate messages about race, all in spaces that are dominated by white men.” We believe that she meant to point out that the exhibit was not only created by a white individual but also a male. Not to mention that the two quotes in the article were from females, the writer of the article was also female. It seems as though there is some slight bias in the article due to the feminist perspective of the exhibit and racism. It does not have a significant impact on the piece as a whole, but any bias should be thrown out the window in a journalistic sense because it can cause some natural flaws in perspective.

We admired how the writer does a nice job relating the exhibit to some other real life situations. She compares the exhibit to movies and shows that were created by white men, stating that those works were seen as racist as well because they were created by white males. She also touches on the gore and vividness movies such as Django Unchained were, and how offended people were of it. This connection got us thinking about other films. For instance, the movie 12 Years a Slave was very graphic and hard to watch but since its director Steve McQueen is African American, it is not seen as racist. We made our own connections based on her writing so that was a great job on her part.

When it comes to the context of the actual argument of the article on whether “Exhibit B” is racist or not, we have both come to the conclusion that it is not racist. We believe that a major reason people classify it as racist is because it was created by white individual. People believe that because he doesn’t understand what it was like to live like them, then he does not have the right to have the exhibit and objectify African Americans. We understand where they are coming from but that is not his intention. Though he is using these people in an extreme matter, it seems that the only way to get his message across is by doing what he did. It causes controversy but it gets people talking.

All in all, this article did a great job on informing the reader of what “Exhibit B’ is in general, as well as why it is seen as racist to some and necessary to others. McDonald included great quotes, pictures and some opinion to give a great account of the controversy surrounding the exhibit. She gave a great account of the perspectives of many different individuals involved in the whole situation and it provided for a very informative and interesting piece. It helped us get a better idea of it and changed our views after doing some critical thinking on the issue.


One thought on “Critique of the article on ‘Exhibit B’

  1. I was also unsure initially about what to think of Exhibit B. On the surface, it did appear extremely problematic to have a white South African tell the horrific stories of “human zoos,” and current atrocities committed against people of color. Reading the response from Brett Bailey, the exhibit’s creator, did begin to change my mind about this exhibition, but what ultimately helped me decide my opinion was reading the performers’ responses to the closing of Exhibit B. From their descriptions of the exhibit, it was immediately clear that the performers had a huge influence on the exhibit. The performers are, in fact, authors of the exhibit. It may have been designed by Brett Bailey, but every performer placed his/her own feelings and experiences into the exhibit. From their quotes, it is clear that the prominent role of the performers in the exhibit appropriately shifted the gaze from the objects of “human zoos” back onto the European audience.


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