“Living with the Past” is the blog of Georgia Fee Artist-in-Residence Malisa Humphrey. In Paris this summer she is researching the sites of former ethnographic exhibitions and colonial expositions. Malisa is interested in how nations address, memorialize, or ignore past atrocities and how their engagement with history compares to the current debate in the United States regarding Confederate memorials.
I have used my work to examine history and the historical construction of the other as an entry point for understanding our current moment.
The countless examples of undisguised racism in the United States following the 2016 presidential election, including the violence surrounding the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville last summer, have led me to wonder over and over again: “What is America’s understanding of its violent past? How does the United States acknowledge and recognize its origins?”
When I visited the remains of 1907 French Colonial Exposition in Paris last January it was hard, as an American, not to draw comparisons between these relics and the debate surrounding Confederate monuments in the U.S.
1906 Colonial Exposition, Grand Palais, Paris
The Colonial Expositions were huge events similar to World Fairs comprising dozens of temporary museums and structures representing France’s empire. Included as part of these pavilions were human ethnographic exhibitions, often referred to as human zoos. The visual language of these expositions organized foreign people and cultures as a collection of possessions and constructed these people and cultures into a hierarchy of civilization.
The gateway that still exists at the entrance to the Jardin de Tropical in the Bois de Vincennes.
The women in the top left image are wearing short hair and traditional wrapped sarongs of Southeast Asia.
Vergangenheitsbewältigung – the struggle to overcome the past.
What I find most interesting about this particular site is its state of disrepair. Many of the windows are broken and several structures are vandalized, but the site is not abandoned. It remains part of the larger Bois de Vincennes.
These ruins remain as evidence not only of the atrocities that occurred at these expositions, but of the larger trauma of colonialism. I will be working with three sites of ethnographic exhibitions that featured living indigenous peoples: the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, which was once l’Acclimatation Anthropologique; the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale in the Bois de Vincennes, which was the site of the 1907 Colonial Exposition; and the Immigration Museum, which was originally built as the Museum of the Colonies for the 1931 Colonial Exposition.
Congo Pavilion, 1907 Colonial Exposition, Paris
Winter image of the remains of the Congo Pavilion of the 1907 Colonial Exposition. Image is part of a series in progress.
Malisa Humphrey, The Four Seasons, 2018, digital image, dimensions variable
I am most interested in what is communicated when a site is allowed to exist in a liminal space, neither celebrated nor demolished, as well as what happens when it is repurposed.
(Image at top: Winter image of the remains of the Indochinese Pavilion of the 1907 Colonial Exposition. Image is part of a series in progress. Malisa Humphrey, The Four Seasons, 2018, digital image, dimensions variable)
Tags: Georgia Fee Artist | Writer Residency Artist Residencies Paris, sculpture, realism, photography