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Colonial Imagination and Forms of Graphic Approach of the Blacks of Africa (1880-1968)

<em> Feria Oficial e Internacional de Muestras. Valencia 1942. Biblioteca Nacional de España.</em>
XX Feria Oficial e Internacional de Muestras. Valencia 1942. Biblioteca Nacional de España.
Since the most archaic texts of our cultural canon, black African populations have been considered the most radical form of cultural otherness.  And to say "cultural" is to take for granted a long-lasting discussion: the eventual inclusion of black Africans in the human realm and in our moral imagination.
Undoubtedly these aspects had their last avatar mediated by the colonial domination, that is to say, the European dominion of territories and populations for their own benefit.  Undoubtedly also, such political-economic domination always had an altruistic alibi, that is, civilizing. Categorized with conceptual schemes that go back centuries, black Africans were thought of as savages ab initio participants in a minority of historical age in need of tutelage, regeneration and progress.
Nevertheless, colonial domination demanded the familiarization of the populations of the metropolises with the colonized human groups, precisely at a time when the initial dynamics and logics that will regiment mass culture can be glimpsed.  A culture that develops precisely in parallel to the deployment and pre-eminence of the great European cities. Cultural practices that were made possible and favoured by the technical development that allowed the unlimited reproduction, printing and diffusion of images, according to very different contexts, uses and purposes.
Along with these practices of vulgarization, a discipline was developed with scientific pretensions that precisely had as its object the study of what has been seen beyond our societies, in order to bring here what has been seen there: anthropology.  It is a moment where very different scientific and cultural practices are combined and different perspectives converge in their interest for the distant from the centre, for the exotic.  In such a way that with regard to the familiarization of colonial Europeans with black African populations there is a synergy between the incipient ethnographic discourse of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and all sorts of mechanisms for incorporating the image of these populations to the representation of the diversity of the human, largely generated through the economic and military administration of the colonies.
From the point of view of scientific dissemination and popular culture, in this long process roughly four dimensions can be distinguished, some of which temporarily overlap. The first of them has recently been called "human zoos", that is to say, reconstructions of supposed original villages where the different ethnic groups developed their supposed ancestral forms of life.  This phenomenon developed mainly in France although we find it since 1870 throughout the European continent and the United States. Also in Spain we have samples of it, as for example the group of ashanti that in 1897 was exhibited in Barcelona and Madrid.
The second dimension, coexisting with the one mentioned above, refers to the massive diffusion of the image by means of its technical reproduction, that is to say, the diffusion of such settlements through photography in its different formats (business card, stereoscopic photographs, postcards, etc.), illustrated magazines and scientific diffusion manuals.
The third refers to the inclusion of fragments of ethnographic description of customs in the adventure films of the end of the colonial period. We find fantastic examples in films such as White Witch Doctor and King Solomon's Mines, as well as in documentaries and news broadcasts.
Finally, the fourth part will be dedicated to the reception of the African black from the armchair at home, through programs where there is a hypostasis of cultural understanding that updates the oldest topics, such as Perdidos en la tribu (Lost in the tribe), advertising campaigns of travel agencies and all the above amplified thanks to the network.  We will also pay attention, if only punctually, to the re-elaboration and resignification with critical purposes of all this documentation from some contemporary visual artistic practices.
We must point out that the exhibition will have a general component, which will include the four dimensions mentioned above and a specific treatment referring to the case of Spanish Equatorial Guinea.  The Spanish case is strange since, from the 1940s until independence, along with Portugal, it was the only African territory colonized by a national-catholic and fascist state.
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