An exhibition in Paris looks at the history of so-called human zoos, that put inhabitants from foreign lands, mostly African countries, on display as article of curiosity.
Over four centuries from the first voyages of discovery, European societies developed an appetite for exhibiting exotic human “specimens” shipped back to Paris, London or Berlin for the interest and delectation of the crowd.
What started as wide-eyed curiosity on the part of observers turned into ghoulish pseudo-science in the mid-1800s, as researchers sought out physical evidence for their theory of races.
Finally, in high colonial times, hundreds of thousands of people visited “human zoos” created as part of the great international trade fairs.
Here they could watch whole villages of Kanaks or Senegalese, with real-life inhabitants paid to act out war dances or religious rituals before their colonial masters.
The story is told at the Quai Branly museum in Paris until June 2012, mainly through the display of paintings, old photographs, archive film, posters and postcards.
The aim of the exhibition is explicit - to teach how Western societies created a sense of “the other” in regard to foreign peoples, thus legitimising their eventual domination.
“What we tried to do is conduct a kind of archaeology of the stereotype,” says curator Nanette Snoep.
Click through to read the rest of the article and to watch a video of Nanette Snoep talking about the Savages exhibition.