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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid