News / Europe

At Paris Exhibit, a Savage Display

Former French football player Lilian Thuram, who curated the Paris "Human Zoos" exhibit, Nov. 28, 2011.
Former French football player Lilian Thuram, who curated the Paris "Human Zoos" exhibit, Nov. 28, 2011.
Lisa Bryant

Obese people, homosexuals, people with disabilities, people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds - why do we set them apart? The Quai Branly museum in Paris addresses this question by revisiting one of the darkest aspects of Western colonialism - events in the not-so-distant past when humans were put on exhibit, often in cages like animals, in Europe and the United States.

"Human Zoos: The Invention of the Savage" sheds light on the origins of racism and prejudice in today's world, a narrative that, according to exhibit curator Nanette Snoep, isn't new.

"Even in ancient Egypt, the Egyptians exhibited dwarfs from the Sudan," she said. "So this is a very, very old story."

And yet it recurs throughout history, as the exhibit reveals, with disturbing frequency.

The Colonial Era
Europeans began exhibiting humans after explorer Christopher Columbus travelled to the Americas in the 15th century. But as recently as the 1950s, people from Africa, Asia and the Americas were displayed in circuses, fairs, parks and freak shows.

"During the 19th century, it became a real entertainment, a real business, to exhibit exotic people and mostly colonial people," said Snoep. "To exhibit someone in a zoo or in international and colonial fairs [was] also a way to justify the colonial project."

And then there were the so-called "freaks and savages" - people with deformities who were put on exhibit.

While many of those caged for touring exhibits - for example, "Hottentot Venus" from South Africa, who was first paraded around Europe in the early 1800s - died, others, like a Togolese man called Nayo Bruce, profited from the phenomenon.

"He went to Berlin in the early 1890s and then very soon, he said 'I will be the businessman, I will be the director of my own village,'" said Snoep. "He organized a sort of Togolese village with his Togolese friends and family and made a tour through Europe for 20 years."

Human exhibits began dying out in the 1930s, as public interest shifted to movies and other forms of entertainment.

A Contemporary Connection
The Quai Branly exhibit, the idea of former French football star Lilian Thuram, takes us to the present day with a video of people who are "different" because of how they look, feel and think.

Thuram, a native of the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe who heads a foundation that educates about racism, says the human zoos helped promote racial hierarchy theories developed by 19th century anthropologists.

"According to these 'scientific theories,' the white race was considered superior," he said. "The scale went down to the so-called 'black race,' which was considered the missing link between monkeys and man."

Thurman says these misguided theories persist today, when, for example, he hears football fans make monkey sounds as black players are on the field. He hopes the show, which draws these parallels between past and present, can make people understand racism as an intellectual fabrication that developed historically, and, as such, can be dismantled.

Although prejudice remains, "Human Zoos: The Invention of the Savage," which runs through June, will make us think hard about our own origins and, perhaps, consider the kind of world we'd like to one day inhabit.

You May Like

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid