The Barbican Centre in London is facing criticism over a planned installation by white South African playwright Brett Bailey, which features live models including a black man in a cage and a semi-naked black woman with a slave shackle around her neck.
The arts venue has defended Exhibit B, which will run between September 23 and 27, as a critique of the "human zoos" and ethnographic displays that showed Africans as objects of scientific curiosity during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Bailey, who has a history of producing racially charged works, has said the show intended to confront European notions of racial supremacy and the plight of immigrants. The exhibition polarised opinion in Edinburgh, where it was on show until Monday.
A petition against the exhibition opening at the Barbican has attracted more than 8,000 signatures in the past two weeks. Sara Myers, a journalist and activist who launched the change.org  petition, questioned why the Barbican would "want to objectify black people as subservient?"
She said: "This is what our ancestors went through and once again we are the guinea pigs. We have this exhibition, but still haven't got an apology for slavery."
Toni Racklin, head of theatre at the Barbican, said Bailey was an internationally acclaimed South African theatre maker and that the show challenged stereotypes and forced the audience to engage with stories of exploitation. "We believe in artists' right to free expression and are proud to be bringing this important work to London," she said.
Bailey recruited performers of African and Afro-Caribbean origin to sit in 100-minute sessions for each of his 12 scenes. Spectators are serenaded by four Namibian choristers.