Artists Controversies News Norway

Controversial human zoo to be recreated as art project in Oslo

Proposal for the 200th anniversary of Norway’s constitution has met with criticism, but artists say they want to “highlight a forgotten event”

A postcard from the original “Congo Village” in during the 1914 centenary celebrations

Norway celebrates the 200th anniversary of its constitution this year, and, the artists Mohamed Ali Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner plan to re-enact one of the main attractions from the centenary in 1914: “The Congo Village”, in which 80 Africans were put on display, living in cabins with palm roofs surrounded by African artefacts. A total of 1.5 million visitors came to see the human zoo, more than half of Norway’s population at that time. Their proposal has unsurprisingly met with criticism from anti-racist organisations in Norway, but the artists say their work is meant “to highlight a forgotten event in Norwegian history”.

Fadlabi and Cuzner, who both live and work in Oslo but were born in Sudan and Sweden respectively, say they first found out about the human zoo three years ago. “Not being from this country, naturally, we assumed that this was common knowledge among natives,” the artists write on the website for their project, which they are calling European Attraction Limited. “So, in an interest to learn more about the general consent on the exhibition, we started asking around. As it turned out pretty much no one we talked to had ever heard about it (even if they had heard of human zoos in other countries). Given how popular the exhibition was the widespread absence of at least a general knowledge was surprising. It is hard to understand the mechanisms of how something could be wiped from the collective memory.”

The artists have received financial support to realise the work from Public Art Norway (Koro), and they have put out a call for volunteers to serve as “extras” in the human zoo. “We welcome anybody from anywhere in the world who believes in the importance of the discussion about colonialism, the evolution of racism, equality, etc”, the artists write, and are asking for a written explanation from applicants on why they want to participate, which may be published after the work is completed. The artists warn potential volunteers that they will “most likely be asked to defend your participation” and that the event will probably be heavily covered by 
the media.

The re-enactment is due to open on 15 May in Oslo. More information and a submission form are on the project’s website: www.europeanattractionlimited.com

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Comments

21 Apr 14
15:58 CET

BARBARA ZARCONE, WATERFORD

as an artist, I can definitely find many other ways to celebrate my country's unjust history.. please do not foster the horrific demoralizing injustice ..my question to the individuals .. have you run out of creative ideas that you must promote diminishing people dignity ??

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