The Primitive State of Ernest Noirot – part 2 Reflections on Human Zoos, exhibition, Châteauvillain, France

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The project, “The primitive State of Ernest Noirot” is my response to the theme: Departure and Arrival where I reflect on the idea of Departure and Arrival in threefold:

  • The first being that of me, as the guest artist in residence coming from the Southern part of Africa, with a base in the Netherlands and arriving in Bourbonne-les-Bain.
  • The second is the discovery of a colonial-historical link with Bourbonne-les-Bains due to colonialist and artist Ernest Noirot, described as the pioneer in everything and tireless, he brought to Paris for the 1889 Exhibition the first ‘Senegalese Village –Human Zoo’ – “Le village nègre”, intolérable zoo humain de Paris.
  • And the third my critical look at migrations now, Europe’s role and response to this as well as the European view on otherness.

The project begins by looking at the history of Bourbonne Les Bains and its link to the world. Examples include this city being home to colonialists as well as the fact that some streets are named after them. The second example which brought an interesting element to the project was in learning that the place now transformed into the artist in residence, was also owned by a French woman with a colonialist link.


With the project-centred around Ernest Noirot, an artist and colonialist who in 1889 represented Senegal at the Universal Exposition in Paris on the Centennial of the French Revolution. There he arranged the display of a Senegalese Village I propose looking at Departure and Arrival beyond his primitive view of otherness. But to instead give back the dignity to the peoples whom through these exhibitions, to date, are deemed less.

Human zoos, also called ethnological expositions, were 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century public exhibitions of humans, also called ethnological expositions, usually in an erroneously labelled “natural” or “primitive” state. The displays often emphasized the cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European peoples or with other Europeans who practised a lifestyle deemed more primitive. Some of them placed indigenous populations in a continuum somewhere between the great apes and Europeans.


This way of looking at and dealing with the world considered inferior and free for the taking, in turn, gave birth to racism and strengthened exploitation, and destruction of other civilizations and the natural world.

This history although tucked away and left unspoken, plays a very important role in the current state of our world. There is great urgency to begin the dialogue about our shared history in order to give it a place. I’m of the strong belief that understanding our shared history is vital for finding solutions to social and environmental degradation and in dealing with the current state of our world.

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In Zulu, we have a saying that “Umhambi Yinkosi,” meaning the traveller is king and the bringer of the new. Looking at Departure and Arrival as the opportunity to discover the new is a great starting point in my view in addressing our shared and un-addressed history on the one hand, and an opportunity to forge a new path that gives place to this shared history.

Sithabile Mlotshwa.

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Title of the event: “One thing will appear”
This title comes from a prophecy of Leonardo da Vinci “one thing will appear that will cover the person who seeks to cover it”.

Inauguration: July 7 at 3pm

Philosophy of the exhibition.

“Each of the works presented in this exhibition, whether proposed by a known or unknown artist, by an “amateur” or a “professional”, whether abstract or figurative, consensual or provocative, obvious or mysterious, whether perceived as ugly or splendid, must be understood, first of all, as an “island of meaning and intelligibility” according to the French philosopher Paul Ricœur.
This means that each work bears witness first of all for its author, whether he is aware of it or not, to a state of things and the world, partial, partial, partial, provisional, questionable.

The works gathered and assembled here are never the result of chance, whims or ancient fidelity. They are the result of a meticulous sampling of some works chosen from hundreds of others.
These choices, which owe as much to intuition as to reasoning, have enabled us to develop a sensitive and disconcerting journey, which, in our opinion, illustrates the state of the world and the nature of the questions that, some evenings, embrace the living.

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So you are entering a chaotic but coherent world.
And once again we will see that the visitor is the real author of the journey, and that each visitor will make his own.

All our proposals in this place since the Maison Laurentine has been holding exhibitions there is to reflect on the great paradox of our time, which leads us to try, day after day, to keep and amplify our joy of living with or despite the ravages and destruction… “One thing will appear” is one more step in this exploration.
Our world now presents itself as a messed-up machine, with broken or sick limbs. The litany of torments grows longer every day (everyone knows the details) while the future becomes opaque (everyone verifies it).
A society that would be like a tree, hit by storms and whose branches, broken but still connected to the trunk, continue to receive its sap still feeding leaves and fruits…
In this exhibition our task was to build bridges and find links between the works first between them and then between them and the visitor.
So that the sap continues to provide for the needs of weakened branches.
Film critic Serge Daney said that in a film each shot should correspond to a state of consciousness.

68529078_10156241956637536_3191880511677005824_nThus, for us too, here too, each arrangement corresponds to a state of consciousness that we hope will allow us to open minds and hearts even more, without giving lessons in aesthetics, politics or morality. The visitor is sovereign and must remain so. We show our respect by sharing our emotions with him and betting on our ability to open the future together.
As we show our respect to artists by trying to present their research in the best possible conditions while putting them in conversation with those of the other participants.
Because we are working to ensure that, everywhere and always, more situations of sharing and conversation develop.
You are our guests and we are happy to have you here. And we follow Paul Ricoeur when he invites us to claim “the epic meaning of our personal existence placed in the perspective of a broader epic of humanity and creation”.
Finally, we are pleased to offer you the great gallery of planets designed and produced by Gilbert Marcel in homage to Leonardo da Vinci: this work places cosmic harmony at the centre of everything and makes you hear the incessant hum of all the conversations of humans, animals, plants and angels since the beginning of time.
A “cosmic” walk that will end with the discovery of the works scattered throughout the park, each one trying to maintain a dialogue between the world of humans and the world of trees.”

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End of the event: August 26th at 7pm.A bit like sumptuous natural landscapes or sometimes devastated by man and climatic disasters, we walk through this exhibition by alternating between comfortable situations (beauties, humanities, sharing) to uncomfortable situations (ugliness , cruelty and injustice). The multiple artistic approaches proposed here do not have the function of reassuring the visitor, nor of provoking him (on what grounds, moreover, could we afford it?).

It is, much more simply, to share the visions of the artists, our emotions, our joys as our torments, to try to understand them better and to amplify our desire to be ourselves among others and with them. We wanted this exhibition, as what every action in our lives should be, intended to further expand our potential for astonishment at beauty and resistance to its destruction.

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Jacques Taillard

The Introduction,

Generic event


Gilbert Marcel


Art Sophie Billard , Vanly Tiene , Rémi Caritey , Lili Marchand ,   Anne Procureur, Christophe Dormoy , Josette Berthe & Germain Caillouet

From the dawn of the world to the morning of today

Pierre Ansault, Jacqueline Lenoel, Elisabeth Lagerkrantz , Francine Garnier & Alain Engelaere, Jean-Bernard Pouchous, Béatrice Chanfrault , Karin Vyncke ,

J ean-Michel Mellière , Jean-Noel Brasier , Thierry Douard , Sithabile Mlotshwa

Emy David , Ghyslaine Noel, Daniela Belinda , Alice Marc , Jean Reverdy ,

Edith Vauthelin, François Petit , Pei-Lin Cheng, Bertrand Peyrot,

Christophe Jobart , Louis Bou r, Olivier Couvreur

In the woods ritual forest