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How can a Human zoo hope to challenge Norway’s image on racism? Some diverse ways!

May 21, 2014

What can just a century of history do to the ‘transformation’ of thought and action of a nation could not be better illustrated than this one!

‘One hundred years ago, Senegalese natives were put on display in Norway to drum up support for colonialism. Today, two artists have recreated the exhibit…and they stand by their art’, reports the Daily Beast.

‘The Norwegians then opened what would become an immensely popular attraction—a human zoo populated by Senegalese villagers living in grass huts. Over the course of five months, the erroneously named “Congo Village,” drew 1.4 million visitors—more than half the country’s population—to gawk at an exotic cluster of sub-Saharan dwellings and traditionally dressed inhabitants. The display, bizarrely, had been billed as celebration of the bicentennial of Norway’s constitution signing.’

This time over it will exhibit volunteers taking turns living on show in makeshift huts, resembling a traditional sub-Saharan village, reports Balzas Koranyi in the Reuters.

‘Displaying 80 people in a human zoo in Oslo’s most elegant park, two artists hope their “Congo Village” display will help erase what they say is Norwegians’ collective amnesia about racism.

Re-enacting a similar display from 1914, Lars Cuznor and Mohamed Ali Fadlabi say Norway, one of the richest nations in the world, with a reputation for tolerance, has only suppressed its intolerance, especially around the time of the national day.

“Norwegians have been propagating this self-image of a post-racial society and it’s been internalized that it’s a good, tolerant society,” Swedish-Canadian Cuznor told Reuters on Friday. “It’s great branding and it’s self perpetuating but it’s a false image.”

The government-funded display opened just days before Norway celebrates the 200th anniversary of its constitution, a day marked by parades all over the country with most people dressed in traditional costumes and waving flags.

“May 17 is the day you feel most foreign and it’s also when racism comes to the surface with debates about whether people have the right to wear their own costumes or display non Norwegian flags,” Sudan-born Fadlabi said.

“Norwegians felt superior in 1914 and they still do through their self image of goodness.”

Public Art Norway, the government agency that put up part of the funding, said the display highlighted questions concerning racism and cultural dominance.

“The rebuilding can be regarded as a monument to the collective loss of memory of a shameful part of our history and a platform for discussion of this historical event, contrasting with Norway today,” it said.

The display, costing 1.4 million crowns ($240,000), has touched off a fierce online debate about whether Norway really is as racist as the artists suggest.

Cuznor says even their exhibition permits hint at the country’s intolerance because they cannot stay overnight, so they do not attract the homeless or Roma people, he said.’ Says Koranyi in Reuters.

Is it about re-engineering the ‘General Will’ or overcoming collective amnesia? Whatever it is, here is in the least a creative attempt to address an unhappy past. Hopefully the scope will expand to include who’s who in the colonial zoo!


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