UVCulturaUV Logo del portal

Imaginació colonial i formes d'aproximació gràfica dels negres d'Àfrica (1880-1968)

Online exhibition
<em>XX 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.




1. Colonial Imagination and Forms of Graphic Approach of Black People in Africa (1880-1968)


From the most archaic texts of our cultural canon, black African populations are seen as the most radical form of cultural alterity.  Regarded as participants in a historical minority in need of guardianship, regeneration and progress, the blacks of Africa were thought of under different stereotyped figurations that go back a long way in time: savages, anthropophagic, idolaters, of a naturalized hyper sexuality, incapable of articulating civilized political forms given their violent nature, etc. This disfiguration process reached its climax after the Berlin Conference (1884-1885), when the European powers organised the territorial possession of the African continent. Colonial domination, used as an excuse of altruism and civilisation, meant the plundering of material resources and the exploitation of the labour of these populations, but also a diversified process of reconfiguration of the representations according to which the Europeans imagined and justified their intervention. It definitely was an ambivalent process, since the desire to bring the blacks of Africa closer together with recurrent forms of exoticism, thus accentuating our lack of recognition of other forms of life, was intertwined. One of the most hurtful ways of this strategy was the exhibitions of Black Villages, popularly known as Human Zoos, which were held throughout Europe between 1870 and 1940. With the progressive development of mass culture, these shows were accompanied by the printing and wide diffusion of their images, contributing both to a well thought-out exoticism and popular racism. Spain was familiar with this trend. Moreover, the Human Zoos were extended from Guinea to the Ferias Muestrario de Valencia (Valencia Trade Fairs) during the first Franco regime, when they had already practically disappeared in Europe.

Despite the mistakes made, critically scrutinising that past is a peculiar way of practising the "anthropological rodeo" that anthropology has always prescribed
Màscara de culte als avantpassats femenins. Ibo/Igbo, Nigèria. Període colonial. Col·lecció Nicolás Sánchez Durá



2. Exhibitions in Europe and Spain. The Ashanti settlement of Madrid and Barcelona (1897) and the Ibero-American Exhibition in Seville (1929)

One of the most spectacular forms of so-called “familiarisation” was the ethnic exhibitions in botanical gardens, zoos, colonial and universal exhibitions that took place from the last third of the 19th century to the first third of the 20th century.  In them, villages were reconstructed where the different ethnic groups showed their supposed ancestral lifestyle. Racialized people were presented to the public as exotic curiosities or living vestiges, according to cultural evolutionism, of what we were in ancient times. The huge number of photographs and postcards that were disseminated constitute a decisive resource for the constitution of popular racism. Some images respond to the type of pseudo-ethnographic production; in others the photographer emphasizes the bodies or the supposed signs of primitivism.  In all of them, the enclosure typical of zoos delimits the space of the Europeans with respect to that of the Africans. The ones that were made in the Jardin d’Acclimatation of Paris and in the Thiepark of Hamburg, promoted by Carl Hagenbeck, a show promoter that developed the formula of exhibiting exotic animals together with the populations with which they lived, turned out to be the paradigm from now on. Spain also joined the exhibition trend. Some of the most notable cases are the Ashanti settlement in Madrid and Barcelona (1897), the Senegalese settlement at Tibidabo in Barcelona (1913) and the Guinea section at the Ibero-American Exhibition in Seville (1929).
Poblat aixanti al Jardí del Retiro de Madrid, A. S. Xatart. 1897. Museu Nacional d’Antropologia, Madrid



3. The Spanish Guinea in the Ferias Muestrario during the first Franco (1942-1946)


If at the Ibero-American Exhibition in Seville the Guinean populations were shown as an example of Spanish sub-Saharan colonial rule, in the context of the first Franco regime, a transfigured form of display of the Fang populations of continental Guinea appears at the Feria Muestrario de Valencia (1942). In the newspaper Las Provincias, the picturesque colonial pavilion was praised for “introducing us to the authentic inhabitants of those islands, their products barely known to us”. A group of “black pamués brought from continental Guinea” had built a traditional house where “numerous handcrafted by them” could be seen. The “pamues”, a genre used by the Spanish to refer indistinctly to the various Fang groups in the interior of the Muni River, was attributed greater primitivism and the need to civilize them through their use as labour on farms and in the lumber industry. In some photographs from the 1942 Feria Muestrario in Valencia, the "pamues" are presented barefoot, with their naked torso, carrying rudimentary spears next to a giant okume trunk that reveals the true intentions of colonial rule. In the presentation of the colonial guard at the Feria Muestrario de Valencia in 1946, alongside the “primitive” dimension was added that of a subject of the colony and a military guarantor of national security. The transition from the savage to the indigenous is thus fulfilled. Now, pamues are “are arrogant, docile, disciplined and extraordinarily clean”. If the primitive colonial imagination had fed on the image of the fang as a wild anthropophagus, this same native is now a subaltern resource of the colonial action of the national Catholic regime.
XX Fira Oficial i Internacional de Mostres de València. Pavelló de Guinea. 1942. Biblioteca Nacional de España



4. Anthropology and dissemination: nomadism of images


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, socio-cultural anthropology was institutionalised as an academic discipline. This is the time when new museums of ethnology are opened both in Spain and in Europe, a process that accompanies colonial expansion. Museums such as the Belgian Congo Museum in Tervuren, the Ethnography Museum in Trocadero in Paris (from 1938 onwards the Museum of Man), the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the Anthropology Museum in Madrid reveal a concept that associates biometric parameters with cultural features. Some types of objects on display are icons of primitive conceptions: busts and plaster statues that attempt to represent the phenotype, spears and knives, masks and fetishes, penile cases, also images that project the ghosts and inhibitions of a bourgeois patriarchal sexuality. Without a doubt, the museum stories contributed to the diffusion of primitive stereotypes in line with the justification of colonial rule. But these “serious discourses” were also fed by a stereotypical popular imagination manifested in the nomadism of images. In scientific books and magazines as well as in publications of popularisation and colonial propaganda (exotic magazines, travel books, memories of the colonists, etc.), we can find the same graphic representations; sometimes as an illustration of different ethnological theories, other times as exponents of popular imagination.
Georges-Marie Haardt i Louis-Audouin Dubreuil, A través del continente negro, Ediciones y Publicaciones Iberia, Barcelona, 1929.
Biblioteca d’Humanitats. Universitat de València / Nicolás Sánchez Durá



5. Moving images, images moving

The kinematic image was the form of consumption par excellence in the context of mass culture. There is a back and forth movement between claims of scientific objectivity and imagined fiction in this field too. We find unsuspected fundamental correspondences between films dedicated to leisure, ethnographic documentaries and newsreels. Regarding the Spanish colonial action under Franco's regime, the filming of NO-DO (a state-controlled series of cinema newsreel produced under the Franco’s dictatorial regime) is unavoidable, where the geographical and ethnographic approach is interwoven with the colonial propaganda (health action, evangelization, economic development, etc.) justified as civilizing and evangelizing progress. The same guidelines are given in some of Manuel Hernández Sanjuán's documentaries commissioned by the Dirección General de Marruecos y Colonias (General Direction of Morocco and Colonies), such as Misiones de Guinea (1948). In Hollywood movies, in the case of White Witch Doctor (1953), we see a similar thematic scheme; the superiority of science, particularly medicine, which not only has a greater efficacy, but by rivalling local idolatry and fetishism, is the best means to displace and replace the supposedly irrational forms of primitive thought. For this purpose, fictional scenes and out-of-context ethnographic films are juxtaposed. Accordingly, in his trailer, after the names of the protagonists, the African populations are reduced to a “cast of thousands”.
After the colonial emancipation and the complex process of construction of the new African states, we still find in the old metropolises - under new figurations - forms of moral imagination not exempt from the legacy that we have tried to show. A revealing example is the photographs that erratically and rapidly circulate on the web. Beyond the family photos, these images are the iconic appoggiatura of the memory of the colonists and also of the affiliative memory of those who were either children then or did not live in the same world that their parents. In any case, both evoke the past with a collection of images that convey emotions, affections, values and frameworks for understanding that reactivate attitudes of colonial domination.