The present contribution concerns the European representation of the colonized world within universal exhibitions, with particular reference to the exposition of living exotic and savage humans coming mainly form Africa. Such performances were contrived for offering the public a vivid image of the contrast between civilization and savagery. Although well rooted in a very old European tradition of freak spectacularization, capture, imports and expositions of human beings came to assume a commercial entrepreneurial form during the 19th and early 20th century. Recent historical and anthropological studies have called these exhibits “human zoos”. However, this notion seems too limited for essentially two reasons: it applies only to a particular late 19th-early 20th century variety of living human exhibitions, which in fact comprehend a larger assortment of shows and displays of human beings; and it insists excessively on the monodimensional and unidirectional relationship between the displayer and the displayed, whereas human exhibitions were more complex “cultural artefacts” whose actors included visitors and spectators and whose unstable meaning was the result of the interplay between different agencies, being thus much the result of representations and interpretations on the making. Four main points are then to be stressed: 1st) the exposed subjects’ agency, which can be analyzed by studying the details of the European tours and the complex reaction patterns that can be ascertained during the exhibitions, 2nd ) the connection between living ethno-exhibitions and national colonial policies; 3rd) the transformation of the 19th century form of human exhibition into more articulated, less exotic, ideologically more complex representation of human diversities within an imperial discourse during the first half of the 20th century; 4th) the continuity in contemporary world of living human exhibitions begs the problem of the building of individual and collective personalities and their meanings through exposition and self-exposition, “watching” and “being watched” and the search for the conditions and boundaries of visibility as a drive for the definition of cultural identities.

Alien human on display. “Time machines” and the visual and temporal appropriation of human diversity

ABBATTISTA, GUIDO
2015

Abstract

The present contribution concerns the European representation of the colonized world within universal exhibitions, with particular reference to the exposition of living exotic and savage humans coming mainly form Africa. Such performances were contrived for offering the public a vivid image of the contrast between civilization and savagery. Although well rooted in a very old European tradition of freak spectacularization, capture, imports and expositions of human beings came to assume a commercial entrepreneurial form during the 19th and early 20th century. Recent historical and anthropological studies have called these exhibits “human zoos”. However, this notion seems too limited for essentially two reasons: it applies only to a particular late 19th-early 20th century variety of living human exhibitions, which in fact comprehend a larger assortment of shows and displays of human beings; and it insists excessively on the monodimensional and unidirectional relationship between the displayer and the displayed, whereas human exhibitions were more complex “cultural artefacts” whose actors included visitors and spectators and whose unstable meaning was the result of the interplay between different agencies, being thus much the result of representations and interpretations on the making. Four main points are then to be stressed: 1st) the exposed subjects’ agency, which can be analyzed by studying the details of the European tours and the complex reaction patterns that can be ascertained during the exhibitions, 2nd ) the connection between living ethno-exhibitions and national colonial policies; 3rd) the transformation of the 19th century form of human exhibition into more articulated, less exotic, ideologically more complex representation of human diversities within an imperial discourse during the first half of the 20th century; 4th) the continuity in contemporary world of living human exhibitions begs the problem of the building of individual and collective personalities and their meanings through exposition and self-exposition, “watching” and “being watched” and the search for the conditions and boundaries of visibility as a drive for the definition of cultural identities.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11368/2845022
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