The Invention of the Savage. An Exhibition on Human Zoos at the Quai Branly Museum, Paris

Just a few generations ago white people only learned about dark skinned people through human exhibitions and pseudo scientific fairs. 19th-century scientists were eager to prove that different races were biologically distinct and whites biologically superior. These practices fueled the tradition of racism and the racist attitudes still existing today. Dark skinned people were de-humanized and so called scientist searched evidence to proof that Africans were actually not really human beings.

Today Lilian Thuram, former international football professional and nowadays head of the French association Education sans Racisme (Education without Racism) is the force behind an exhibit in the Quai Branly Museum, a modern venue right at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The exhibit brings to story of Europe’s perspective of the ‘other’. It brings into display the history of prejudice.

Offensive images are exhibited while visitors are urged to have a closer look and to be shocked. Films from those days are shown, freak show posters, scientific instruments used to measure skulls and noses, sculpted busts to show human differences compared to blacks and apes.

For the Europeans at the time scientific racism was often the only way to discover the world elsewhere. But the visitors were not aware of the fact that these photo’s, films, drawings, scientific exhibitions, etc. were more fabrications of a fantasy world that the actual representation of people from tropical climes.

Most people displayed in those days stay anonymous. An exceptions is South African Saartje Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus. She was often displayed in scientific fairs and spectacles alike. Her life is now subject to a French film released this year. Saartje Baartman is also featured in this exhibition (a French film was dedicated to Sarah Baartaman's story).

Other people have also been identified as Christian Karembeu’s (another French international football professional), grandparents are known to have been shipped from New Caledonia to be exhibited in Paris as "cannibals."

The audioguide is recommended to give you the necessary context. The audioguides are available in English, French and German. At the end a video projection offer moments to reflect. The exhibit opened the day before yesterday (29/11/2011) and runs till 3 June 2012.

More info here

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