This article is part of a themed issue of "Ricerche storiche" with the title "Esposizioni Universali in Europa. Attori, pubblici, memorie tra metropoli e colonie, 1851-1939 (a cura di Giovanni Luigi Fontana -Anna Pellegrino)". It aims at discussing some current historiographical paradigm concerning living ethno-exhibitions, by showing how deeper and more ancient motivations were at their basis. In particular, the article criticizes the notion of "human zoos" as suggesting an interpretation which risks missing some fundamental aspects of the ethno-exhibitions. Such aspects - variety, multiple meanings, agency and negotiation - are introduced and explained. In particular, this essay dwells on the concepts of ‘human zoos’ and ‘living human exhibitions’, in order to show that the first was a particular case of a larger family of cultural practices in early modern and modern Europe, where the appropriation of human ‘others’ was inspired by the will to exercise the ‘power of the gaze’. Human aliens were repeatedly and often voluntary victims of abduction from their countries of origin and public exhibition in several different venues in European cities according to widely diffused practices of ‘public othering of the human body’, which was made available to the observation of the Western gaze. The great nineteenth-twentieth century world expositions offered one of the most influential contexts for such ethno-shows, innovating the pre-existing performances in several ways, in particular by taking over the ‘human zoos’ format. It would be partial however to interpret the latter only in terms of the obvious aspects of ‘animalisation’ of human ‘others’ and racism. Public exhibitions of living humans ‘other’ were in fact complex performances involving ideas of civilizing and Christianizing tasks and occasioned unexpected reactions on both sides of the exhibitions, so that to reduce the latter to a mere expression of power and racist domination means to miss important aspects of the complex relationship between exposer and exposed.

Beyond the human zoos: exoticism, ethnic exhibitions and the power of the gaze

ABBATTISTA, GUIDO
2015

Abstract

This article is part of a themed issue of "Ricerche storiche" with the title "Esposizioni Universali in Europa. Attori, pubblici, memorie tra metropoli e colonie, 1851-1939 (a cura di Giovanni Luigi Fontana -Anna Pellegrino)". It aims at discussing some current historiographical paradigm concerning living ethno-exhibitions, by showing how deeper and more ancient motivations were at their basis. In particular, the article criticizes the notion of "human zoos" as suggesting an interpretation which risks missing some fundamental aspects of the ethno-exhibitions. Such aspects - variety, multiple meanings, agency and negotiation - are introduced and explained. In particular, this essay dwells on the concepts of ‘human zoos’ and ‘living human exhibitions’, in order to show that the first was a particular case of a larger family of cultural practices in early modern and modern Europe, where the appropriation of human ‘others’ was inspired by the will to exercise the ‘power of the gaze’. Human aliens were repeatedly and often voluntary victims of abduction from their countries of origin and public exhibition in several different venues in European cities according to widely diffused practices of ‘public othering of the human body’, which was made available to the observation of the Western gaze. The great nineteenth-twentieth century world expositions offered one of the most influential contexts for such ethno-shows, innovating the pre-existing performances in several ways, in particular by taking over the ‘human zoos’ format. It would be partial however to interpret the latter only in terms of the obvious aspects of ‘animalisation’ of human ‘others’ and racism. Public exhibitions of living humans ‘other’ were in fact complex performances involving ideas of civilizing and Christianizing tasks and occasioned unexpected reactions on both sides of the exhibitions, so that to reduce the latter to a mere expression of power and racist domination means to miss important aspects of the complex relationship between exposer and exposed.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11368/2843713
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