Artists Recreating Norway’s Human Zoo Court Controversy

A postcard from the “Congo Village” that was part of Norway's 1914 celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the country's constitution.
A postcard from the “Congo Village” that was part of Norway's 1914 celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the country's constitution.
A postcard from the “Congo Village” that was part of Norway's 1914 celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the country's constitution.

A postcard from the “Congo Village” that was part of Norway’s 1914 celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the country’s constitution.

As part of Norway’s bicentennial celebrations of the signing of its constitution, artists Mohamed Ali Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner plan to remind the world of a less than prestigious episode from the country’s past by recreating “The Congo Village,” a living exhibition of African peoples that headlined centenary attractions in 1914, reports the Art Newspaper.

The village featured 80 people living in palm-roofed cabins, and attracted 1.5 million visitors—over half of Norway’s population at the time. The proposed re-enactment of the exhibition, titled European Attraction Limited, is meant “to highlight a forgotten event in Norwegian history,” according to an online statement. As one might expect, it has not been well received by local anti-racist organizations.

Fadlabi, born in Sudan, and Cuzner, who hails from Sweden, learned of the 1914 event three years ago, and were surprised to discover that few Norwegians seemed to know anything about it. “Given how popular the exhibition was, the widespread absence of at least a general knowledge was surprising,” the duo explains. “It is hard to understand the mechanisms of how something could be wiped from the collective memory.”

The artist are asking for volunteers “who believe in the importance of the discussion about colonialism, the evolution of racism, equality, etc.,” but warn that those who participate will likely have to defend their actions. The project has been funded by Public Art Norway (Koro).

Public opinion be damned, the human zoo is scheduled to open in Oslo on May 15.


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