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L'invention du sauvage
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The invention of the savage

From 29/11/2011 to 03/06/2012 at 01:00

The invention of the savage unveils the history of women, men and children brought from Africa, Asia, Oceania and America to be exhibited in the Western world in circus numbers, theatre or cabaret performances, fairs, zoos, parades, reconstructed villages or international and colonial fairs. The practice started in the 16th Century royal courts and continued to increase until the mid-20th Century in Europe, America and Japan.  

A wide array of paintings, sculptures, posters, postcards, movies, photographs, mouldings, dioramas, miniatures and costumes provide insight on the scope of the phenomenon and on the success of the exotic performance industry, which captivated over a billion spectators who, between 1800 and 1958, marvelled at more than 35,000 individuals throughout the world.

Through 600 items and the screening of many film archives, the exhibition shows how this type of performance, when used as propaganda and entertainment, has fashioned the Western perspective and deeply influenced a certain perception of the Other for nearly five centuries.

The exhibition explores the sometimes fine lines between exotic individuals and freaks, science and voyeurism, exhibitionism and spectacle. It also questions visitors on their own contemporary biases.

While the exhibitions gradually disappear in the 30s, they have by then already had their effect, of setting a boundary between the exhibited and the spectators. Which begs the question: does that line still remain today?


General Curator: Lilian Thuram
Scientific curators: Pascal Blanchard & Nanette Jacomijn Snoep

Musée du quai Branly
37, quai Branly

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