We stand with our dear friends and comrades of London-based interdisciplinary design collective RESOLVE, who have decided to pull out their Barbican exhibition them’s the breaks that opened on March 30, 2023, and was scheduled to last until July 16, accompanied by a series of public events. We had ourselves briefly announced organizing one of these events as some of you may remember, before renouncing for reasons that should not overshadow those listed in RESOLVE’s text here, but that are, unsurprisingly, in full consistency with them. We extend our respect and admiration to our friends for their courage and invariable integrity that we, like many others, have been privileged to witness this past decade. We also send our support and solidarity to friends of Radio AlHara and Abiba Coulibaly.
them’s the breaks: WE OUT
On Thursday 15th June we arrived at our Barbican exhibition, them’s the breaks, to attend a talk with Nihal El Aasar and Radio AlHara. The talk was organised by Abiba Coulibaly as part of What Is Happening Inside?, a young people’s development programme that sat within our wider public programme at the Barbican. On arriving, we learned the talk had been cancelled. We were then informed by Abiba, and later the Radio AlHara team, of an act of anti-Palestinian censorship by a member of the Barbican comms team. The Barbican have since offered a sincere apology to Radio AlHara and to ourselves. With Radio AlHara’s acceptance and our agreement, the talk has been rescheduled. Over the course of our time as Curve Gallery artists, however, we experienced a number of shameful incidents. So, in spite of the apology, we out.
The incident of anti-Palestinian censorship occurred only hours after we had sent an email to the Barbican Gallery Manager summarising our disappointment at a number of hostile encounters we had experienced from a select few members of the Barbican Front of House staff across our exhibition’s lifespan. This had included: hostility towards close family and friends at the exhibition opening; heavy-handed and overly-suspicious treatment when entering our exhibition with a group of other Black and Brown artists; and being publicly deprecated and infantilised whilst ushered out of our exhibition space at the end of Gut Level’s Cute and Sexy North rave on Saturday 3rd June (whilst the exhibition curator and producer remained inside).
This has prompted our decision to exit the Barbican Curve Gallery prematurely, which will unfold in three parts. Firstly, we are ceasing all public programme events at the Barbican, as we are unable to provide our communities and collaborators with the assurances we require to bring them into our exhibition and programme safely. This excludes Radio AlHara’s rescheduled event, where we will appear alongside their team and explicitly address what happened. Secondly, the material within the exhibition will be taken down, leaving the gallery bare from Monday 26th June. We hope that this serves as a physical reminder of both ours and Radio AlHara’s experiences, holding the institution to account for their promises and making visible the ones they have failed to keep. Finally, we will gradually distribute the materials from the exhibition to organisations, practices and individuals interested and in need through a series of Closing Down Sales. These will be organised in a number of our collaborators’ spaces and public spaces across London from Monday 3rd July.
Prior even to the events of Thursday 15th June, our experiences at the Barbican had led us to a frustrating, yet unsurprising, conclusion: that today, despite the best intentions of many good individuals within the institution, young Black artists such as ourselves and other peers who seek to platform their communities, cannot be guaranteed to be treated with respect and dignity when working there. This feeling was compounded by the unequivocal act of anti-Palestinian censorship against Radio AlHara. The following day we stopped all further events in our public programme to safeguard our peers, collaborators, and co-conspirators from further institutional harm.
Our organisational solidarity with Palestinian liberation goes beyond performative politics. We had returned from Palestine just weeks prior to this event, having worked with schools from Ramallah and Kufr ‘Aqab. We have been fostering relationships with a number of inspirational Palestinian arts, architectural, and cultural initiatives in Ramallah and Bethlehem as part of our work with The Mosaic Rooms in London and the Qattan Foundation in Ramallah, and this work will of course continue. We have also met with the team at Radio AlHara this week to address the growing issue of anti-Palestinian censorship in cultural institutions.
We are in full support of the rescheduling of Radio AlHara’s talk and stand in solidarity with their position on the importance of visibility for both Palestinian liberation and Palestinian artists in global cultural institutions. We hope that our response is then one that highlights this importance and also offers some transparency around our own hostile experiences whilst working as the Barbican’s Curve Gallery artists. We made this decision because each time we exhausted ourselves to forgive, unsee, or rationalise these experiences, we were left without solace and with Zora Neale Hurston’s cautionary words unheeded: “if you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it”.
In 2022, we declined two invitations to be Curve Gallery artists due to warnings from our community and a team-wide distrust of the institution sparked by the Barbican Stories controversies. When we finally accepted, largely because of our initial and enduring trust in curator Jon Astbury, we were clear that the requirements for us to deliver a project that was radical in its purpose and focused in its execution were respect and dignity. Such requirements would allow us to bring our communities into a space with confidence and clarity, understanding what was possible for our organisation and, importantly, what was not. These requirements could not be upheld by multiple teams in the institution and this has prompted our decision to transition out of the Curve Gallery.
In spite of this experience, our practice still continues and with it our dedication to creating spaces and infrastructures that champion and platform alternative practice. The aspirations of the project were not limited to what could be achieved within the Curve Gallery. The tributaries of the project will continue independent of the Barbican into the summer, beginning with the ACV Magazine Issue Launch with The Mighty Ruler Soundsystem at New River Studios in Manor House on Wednesday 21st June (tonight). The relationships and partnerships nurtured through the public programme will continue to bear fruit over the coming months and beyond. This starts with the third and final workshop at our studio in Croydon between POoR Collective, Maia Ardalla and Accumulate Youth Homelessness Charity on Thursday 22nd June to develop work for Accumulate’s upcoming exhibition. Finally, as promised, the material from the show will still be redistributed so stay tuned for more details on this at the end of June.
Babylon haffi bun, but still we want to extend our thanks to those supporters and co-conspirators within the institution who made the most crucial crucial moments of this exhibition such a success: Matt Turner whose programming facilitated gatherings with groups such as HomeGrown Plus, Gut Level, Mondo Radio, Cosmic Slop, Healing Justice Ldn, Civic Square, MAIA, Kin Structures, POoR Collective, Maia Ardalla, Accumulate Youth Homelessness Charity, and The Choir With No Name; Hannah Woods who guided us through a gruelling installation process and introduced us to the amazing Deptford Freestylers; Jamie Measure-Hughes who has been a steadfast ally and sacrificed countless hours to support the show alongside the rest of the brilliant technician team; and finally, Jon Astbury, who continues to be an invaluable friend, a tireless advocate, and the truest co-conspirator.
And to the Barbican, we know there will be many who are relieved and others who will be disappointed. We want you to know how sad we are to be giving up the best job in the world: but them’s the breaks.