News / Europe

At Paris Exhibit, a Savage Display

Former French football player Lilian Thuram, who curated the Paris
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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More