The exhibition Human zoo. The age of colonial exhibitions tells the story of men, women and children from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas who were exhibited before Western eyes, most often as part of world’s fairs and colonial exhibitions like the 1897 Brussels International Exhibition and its Congolese section in Tervuren. The latter led to the creation of the Museum of Congo, built in 1898 and the forerunner of today’s AfricaMuseum.

The exhibit takes a historical and thematic approach to examining the line between ‘exotics’ and the colonized, science and voyeurism, exhibition and spectacle, colonialism and racism. In providing a space for stories as diverse as they are forgotten, it hopes to lift the anonymity of the persons exhibited, particularly the Congolese present in Tervuren in 1897 and in other exhibitions held in Belgium between 1880 and 1958. Finally, it asks visitors to consider their own representations of today’s world. 

This new circuit featuring over 500 documents shows how such spectacles – instruments of propaganda, objects of scientific study, and sources of entertainment rolled in one – shaped Western views. The comprehensive overview gives a taste of the immense popularity of these events that transfixed more than a billion and a half people and involved nearly 35,000 persons exhibited throughout the world.