Sunday, February 12, 2012

Human Zoos: Exhibition recounts stories of 'savages' put on show at circuses and theatres

Former French International Football player and anti-racism advocate Lilian Thuram, who curated the exhibition.

November 29, 2011

THE story of men, women and children plucked from their homes and exhibited like zoo animals is the focus of a major show that opened this week at Paris' tribal arts museum.

The invention of the savage, at the Quai Branly museum, shows how up until the mid-20th century, labelling indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, Oceania and America "savages" helped to justify the brutality of colonial rule.

Former football star Lilian Thuram, who was born on the French Caribbean island Guadeloupe, is chief curator of the show. He told AFP he was stunned by a visit to Hamburg zoo in Germany.

"At the entrance there are animal sculptures, but also ones of Indians and Africans - letting visitors know they are going to see not just animals but human beings as well," he said.

"They are still there today."

In 1931, the grandparents of another French footballer, Christian Karembeu, were put on display at the Jardin d'Acclimation in Paris, then in Germany, along with about 100 other New Caledonian Kanaks, cast as "cannibals".

From the Indians brought back to Spain by Christopher Columbus after 1492, until the end of the 18th century, the first wave of shows involved indigenous people seen as exotic or monstrous, shown to a limited European elite.

But the phenomenon expanded massively from the early 19th century on, when South Africa's Saartje Baartman, known as the "Hottentot Venus", was exhibited in London and Paris.

"We reckon that 1.4 billion people were exposed to these exhibitions of so-called 'savages', at universal exhibitions, fairs, circuses or theatres,'' between 1810 and 1958, said one of the curators, historian Pascal Blanchard.

Such shows took place across Europe, but also in the US, Japan and Australia, involving some 35,000 people from the colonies, many of whom were paid for their appearance.

A hairy woman from Laos, known as "Krao", was exhibited at the end of the 19th-century as "the missing link" between man and monkey.

And William Henry Johnson, a black American child with a slight mental handicap, was bought from his parents aged four by the scam artist Phineas Taylor Barnum, who dressed him in a hairy suit and made him grunt in public - under the title "What is it?".

The show brings together some 600 artefacts from paintings to sculptures, posters and books as well as skull-measuring devices used to demonstrate the supposed superiority of whites over other peoples.

The Paris exhibit, which runs until June 3, attempts to restore some dignity, centuries on, to the victims of the practice, by naming the people involved and tracing their individual life stories.

'When I first started reading about the "human zoo's" of the past, I was initially very angry and pissed off at Carl Hagenbeck, and in a small part at what I wrongly perceived as a "German mentality". Fact's are very important to me, and I don't jump on any "feel good/pc" bandwagon" until I have studied something inside and out. In reading further, and in discussions with German Marco Kirsten and others, I realized I was wrong in jumping to conclusions based on an account written by a Jewish author about Hagenbecks "human zoo's." They were a world wide epidemic, most supplied by their own people's.

Mr. Former French International Football player Lilian Thuram, who was "stunned" at the historic main entrance gate at the Hagenbeck Zoo needs to get over it, and take a chill pill. If he had really studied the subject well, instead of curating exhibits, he would have known the gate was there long ago. That was a long time ago, folks were stupid then, and not as educated as they are today, although they justified it as learning and science, and if I am not careful that is an easy justification, wrong, but easy none the less, for me. All due respect, Mr. Former French International Football player you need to take a look at what is going on in Tanzania(see below) today, and explain it to an educated world so that we can understand it.'

No comments: