Two Norwegian-based artists thought that the public should remember the ‘Human Zoo’ of 1914. For its hundredth birthday, they decided to reenact it.
So the artists, Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner, rebuilt what was called the ‘Congolese village’. They called for volunteers to exhibit themselves. And provoked a lot of reaction from the racist as well as from the anti-racist communities in Norway and abroad.
Their initiative made the usual controversies flare up – extremely high (both sides threatened to put the exhibition literally on fire) but not extremely much, I think. If their sole goal was to make people remember the event, it partly worked.
But there is more; even if the artists refuse to provide much information about their motives, they still have provided contextualizing video-interviews and texts about the theme. They asked some wise and anti-racist intellectual men and women what they thought of the re-enactment idea and received interesting responses. You can research them all, I give you a link to professor Tejumola Olaniyan about the Western disavowal of Africa’s modernity: “The kind of poverty that Africa has today is a very very modern poverty.”
The most powerful anti-racist critique the artists received is: ‘the re-enactment serves to re-enforce the regime of “our country” and its socio-cultural attitudes.’ (on their facebook page). Unfortunately, though strongly invited by the author, the artists do not answer the critique. The reactions and press attention died out a few days after the opening of the exhibition. There are no new posts, although the exhibition is still going on until august. There is no information about what is going on, how many volunteers they have found etcetera.
I suggest the ‘simple’ reproduction, even with the best of intentions, is dangerous. Not being clear about the intentions is an open invitation to everybody to see their own point of view affirmed. And it is very painful – again – to people abused by racism. At this stage, the work does not look helpful.