Artists Reenact Human Zoo in Norway

Less than one month left, Norway is going to celebrate the 200th constitution anniversary. While a lot of celebrations are undergoing to highlight the national holiday, a project from two artists are catching eyes and causing heated discussions nowadays as they plan to open a human zoo in Oslo, again.

The story goes back to 1914 when the King of Norway opened a human zoo as part of 100th anniversary celebration,  in which 80 African people lived for five months in “the Congo Village”, living in palm-roof cabins, surrounded by indigenous artifacts and going about their daily routine of cooking, eating and making handicrafts, reports The Independent.

The two artists, Mohamed Ali Fadlabi from Sudan and Lars Cuzner from Sweden, decide to make a historical reenactment exhibition on 15th of May in Frognerparken in Oslo named European Attraction Limited. They claimed it is aimed to question the collective loss of memory, the nation building process, the message of Norwegian goodness – “Three years ago we stumbled upon information about a human zoo that had taken place in the heart of Oslo in 1914. Not being from this country, naturally, we assumed that this was common knowledge among natives, 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 (1.4 million visitors saw it at a time when the population of Norway was 2 million) 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 project is partly funded by Public Art Oslo and heavily criticized by both the left and the right. “This is taking it too far,” said Rune Berglund to The Independent, head of Norway’s Anti-Racism Centre. “The only people who will like this are those with racist views. This is something children with African ancestry will hear about and will find degrading. I find it difficult to see how this project could be done in a dignified manner.”

Fadlabi and Cuzner show no surprise to the outrage of people. “The reaction to our suggestion was mixed. Many were for and many were against. The arguments on both sides were familiar. It was the same circular pattern that we wanted to confront in the first place.” They are still committed to perform the exhibition and call for volunteers to participate by sending application here.


Susan Buck-Morss is Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Graduate Center, CUNY, New York. Until recently, she held the Jan Rock Zubrow ‘77 Professorship in Government at Cornell University, USA.

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