The Department of Modern Languages and Cultures will be contributing to the forthcoming Being Human Festival, which will take place from 17-25 November 2016 across different venues in Liverpool. Professor Charles Forsdick has been working for a number of years with the French public history group ACHAC on the subject of putting people on display – commonly known as ‘human zoos’. ACHAC has contributed considerably to raising awareness of this historical phenomenon and to exploring its global complexity, first in a conference in Marseilles in 2000, papers from which appeared in an influential book in 2002. This volume has now been translated into several languages, including an English-language edition that appeared with Liverpool University Press in 2008. Furthermore, a major exhibition on the subject was held at the Quai Branly in Paris in 2011/12, and a version of this exhibition will be on display in Liverpool later this month as part of the department’s involvement in the Being Human festival.
The exhibition, which covers a range of historical periods, geographical locations and national contexts, raises many questions about ‘human zoos’, and the forms of observation they involve. Drawing on the rich iconography surrounding the phenomenon, it also forces us to address the ethics of display and the extent to which access to often challenging imagery is essential to understanding this historical practice and its contemporary afterlives. The exhibition was developed in association with the Lilian Thuram Foundation, and is part of a wider commitment to understanding the historical roots of contemporary racism—and to contributing to anti-racist education.
You are not born a racist, you become one. […] Racism is an intellectual construction and, more than anything, a political one.
The exhibition will be held at the Kuumba Imani Centre in Liverpool from 17-25 November, and will be complemented by three events in which audiences will be invited to learn more about putting humans on display and to engage in debates on the subject. The exhibition will be launched with a roundtable discussion on 21 November at 5pm, with speakers including Sandrine Lemaire (ACHAC, France), Shahmima Akhtar (University of Birmingham) and Lara Atkin (QMUL). There will also be a screening of the documentary on ‘human zoos’ produced by ACHAC (in French, with English subtitles) at the University of Liverpool on 22 November. Finally, there will be a concluding panel discussion on ‘Displaying Humans: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives’, held in the Anthony Walker Education Centre at the International Slavery Museum at 3pm on 23 November, with contributions from Shahmima Akhtar (University of Birmingham), Lara Atkin (QMUL), Stephen Kenny (University of Liverpool), Emily Trafford (University of Manchester) and Karen Salt (University of Nottingham).
Background information on the subject of human zoos is also available on Professor Forsdick’s Translating Cultures blog.