When artists Mohamed Ali Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner first heard mentions of Norway's historic "human zoo" they were surprised, sure. But what Fadlabi (from Sudan) and Cuzner (Canadian-Swedish) found even more astonishing, was how thoroughly that moment in time had been erased from their adoptive country's collective memory. So they decided to bring the dusty photo album back to life by recreating the village, in the same city park, from May 15 to August 31.
Granted, the original "Congo Village," as it was called (despite being populated by people from Senegal), was not all that unusual at the time. Back then, exhibits featuring exotic people paid to do exotic things while wearing exotic clothes were pretty standard fare at major exhibitions throughout Europe and North America.
The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, for example, included displays of several "primitive" people including the Igorot (from the Philippines) and an "Eskimaux village" replete with sled dogs and igloos, Thailand still houses several such "villages" featuring "long necked" Kayan women.
"But what kept happening," says Cuzner, "was we met people who had heard about the phenomenon of human zoos in othercountries, but they were pretty sure that that had neverhappened in Norway." Because Norway—land of the Nobel Peace Prize, high on all the "equality" lists, home to a sizable immigrant population—is supposed to be different.
But, all that aside, say Cuzner and Fadlabi, this is a country that enjoys basking in the "image of Norwegian goodness," a kind of "aren't we grand for being more equal than everyone else" attitude that is perhaps unique to the welfare states of Scandinavia. It's a sentiment widely on display this year as Norway celebrates the bicentennial of its constitution.
The framing of the project by the artists as a "reenactment" could (and did) lead many to assume that it would be a straight-up black and white photocopy of the original scene.
With that in mind, Rune Berglund Steen with the Norwegian Centre Against Racism initially described the project as "degrading," saying it would make Norwegian children of African descent "vulnerable to bullying and harassment."
But for Fadlabi, Steen's original response is a perfect illustration of a fundamentally patronizing attitude that makes the project so relevant. At the start of the project, he says, many well-intentioned people tried to warn him, "the African guy," away from the idea, "because, by default, Lars is supposed to be racist, I'm supposed to be stupid, and he's supposed to be using me."
Stop the Human Zoo of Black People in Norway
Petition by Halima Hosh
Only the lowest of the lowest people can have the idea of exhibiting people, any people - Human beings - but Black people in particular in a human zoo. Of course people who do that cannot claim to have the slightest knowledge of Black history (especially the Sudanese artist) and what such an exhibition means to Black people. To have the nerve to call it 'art' adds insult to insult.
It is claimed to spark a discussion on racism in Norway. Surely there are better ways than to re-create one of the darkest and most painful times of Black History.
Would the so-called artist re-create a live concentration camp with everything in it in Germany to spark a debate about Nazi's and Neo-Nazis? I don't think so. And besides - Germany wouldn't even allow it. Nobody wants to re-live a very painful time if not necessary.Therefore why would anyone think Black people would like to see a Human Zoo where they are exhibitioned? The so-called artists must think VERY LOW of Black people otherwise they would not do that. The so-called artists must question their own racism.
This exhibition of Black people in a Human Zoo must not, never ever happen!!! Enough is enough!