Recreating the inhumane spectacle

“Exterminate all the brutes,” Kurts proclaims in Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness

This book was published a few years before the Hereros and Namas of Namibia were nearly wiped away at the beginning of the last century by German colonists.

Prior to their near extermination, in what is accepted as the first genocide of the 20th century, Namibia’s colonial  commissioner for settlement, Paul Rohrbach, had written that “to secure the peaceful white settlement against the bad, culturally inept and predatory native tribe, it is possible that its actual eradication may become necessary under certain conditions”.

Brett Bailey’s new work, Exhibit A recreates the museums and spectacles in Europe to which millions of people flocked to see inferior darker races, on exhibition, in enclosures.

Bailey has updated the roster to include the thousands of migrants-Congolese, Nigerians and others-who are treated inhumanely, especially in Europe, by a society whose bureaucracy is founded on a cold, impersonal logic.

“This exhibition of live Africans provides an opportunity for you to gaze at a variety of people from different parts of the continent-to have a good, hard look at ‘difference’- and maybe to reach some kind of understanding,” the programme notes explain.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.
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