Issue 15.4, November 2000

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Essay Excerpt

"By now it is widely understood that the emergence of international exhibitions during the second half of the 19th century created a powerful stock of images of the non-Western world for European consumption, which in turn helped refashion metropolitan social space (Altick 1978; Benedict 1983; Benjamin 1983; Bennett 1988; Breckenridge 1989; Buck-Morss 1991; Coombes 1994; Greenhalgh 1988; Harris 1990; Harvey 1996; Karp and Lavine 1991; Mitchell 1988; Rydell 1993), The unsettling phenomenon of "living ethnological displays," a popular feature of exhibitions in the final decades of the 19th century, is perhaps the most objectionable genre in the history of anthropology's signifying practices, as well as the most consistently underexamined. For it is one thing, as Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has recently observed, to construct an ethnographic object in a text or to display an anthropological artifact behind glass: "It is quite another when people are themselves the medium of ethnographic representation, when they perform themselves—when they become living signs of themselves" (1998:18)."

"Living Ethnological Exhibits: The Case of 1886," Saloni Mathur (492).