Paris’s most talked-about exhibition of the winter opened on Tuesday with shock and soul-searching over the history of colonial subjects used in human zoos, circuses and stage shows, which flourished until as late as 1958. Human Zoos: The Invention of the Savage, curated by former French international footballer turned anti-racism campaigner Lilian Thuram, traces the history of a practice which started when Christopher Columbus displayed six “Indians” at the Spanish royal court in 1492 and went on to become a mass entertainment phenomenon in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Millions of spectators turned out to see “savages” in zoos, circuses, mock villages and freak shows from London to St Louis, Barcelona to Tokyo. These “human specimens”, and “living museums” served both colonialist propaganda and scientific theories of so-called racial hierarchies. The exhibition at Paris’s Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac’s museum dedicated to once-colonised cultures – is the first to look at this international phenomenon as a whole. It brings together hundreds of bizarre and shocking artefacts, ranging from posters for “Male and Female Australian Cannibals” in London, which was the world capital of such stage shows, to documentation for mock villages of “Arabs” and “Sengalese”, or juggling tribeswomen in France, which was renowned for its extensive human zoos. Thuram, who was born on the French Caribbean island Guadaloupe, said the exhibition explained the background of racist ideas and “fear of the ‘other’” which persisted today. You have to have the courage to say that each of us has prejudices, and these prejudices have a history,” Thuram explained. He said he was appalled that Hamburg zoo still had sculptures of Indians and Africans at its entrance, a sign that humans as well as animals were on display.
(Source: sunrec, via praxis-makesperfect-deactivated)