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(TheGrio.com)—A fascinating exhibition in Paris explores the history of so-called “human zoos,” predominately from Africa, which were the objects of curiosity and fascination in a bygone era.
On view at the famous Quai Branly Museum, it tells the story of the men, women and children, who were shipped to Europe and showcased like zoo animals in circuses, stage shows and reconstructed villages.
The practice, which involved indigenous peoples brought from Asia, Africa, Oceania and America, started in the 16th century and continued until the mid-20th century in Europe and also in the U.S., Japan and Australia.
The exhibition, entitled “Human Zoos: The Invention of Savage”, explores these “freak” shows as a mass entertainment phenomenon, which captivated an estimated 1.4 billion spectators who, between 1800 and 1958, marveled at more than 35,000 individuals throughout the world.
The exotic shows began to decline in the 1930s with changing public interest and the advent of the big screen. The last “living spectacles” were Congo villagers exhibited in Belgium in 1958.
The story, told through 600 items and film archives, shows how what started as a curiosity fed into pseudo-science in the mid-1800s, as researchers sought out physical evidence for their theories of differing races.