Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Exotic elsewhere

I've always been intrigued by the way in which the curious mammals of the species Homo sapiens, known for their almost hairless skins and their bulky brains (whose weight obliges them to walk upright), often imagine their brethren who live elsewhere on the globe. When art was the only means of recording visions of Antipodean creatures, it was inevitable that a degree of weirdness should creep in. Here's how a European imagined a Tahitian couple:

An indigenous couple in the conquered territory of America merited better treatment than this:

Photography, when it arrived on the Antipodean scene, should have normally made things better. Sometimes, alas, the outcome was worse.

The cropped hair, fancy clothes, woolen stockings and shiny boots of these allegedly "wild Australian children" (in fact, a pair of microcephalic female adolescents) reflect the fact that equally monstrous specimens—unscrupulous and immoral businessmen—were exploiting these unfortunate individuals lucratively in the USA, in the late 1860s, as circus freaks. As they say in the classics: It takes all sorts of people to make a world.

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